Bangladeshi police shoot down six construction workers
Bangladeshi police shot dead six construction workers at the Banshkhali SS coal-fired power plant project in Chittagong (Chattogram,), the country’s second largest city. The police shooting took place on April 17 as around 2,000 workers demonstrated for the regular payment of their wages and against harsh working conditions.
Four workers died at the scene and dozens of injured protesters were taken to Chittagong University Hospital. A worker died later in the day and another on April 21. According to media reports, around 20 workers were shot and wounded. However, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development reported on April 20 that more than 50 workers were injured in the police attack.
The indiscriminate nature of the violence is revealed in a police statement which stated that the police fired “332 cartridges – 202 rubber bullets, 68 lead bullets from hunting rifles, 62 bullets from Chinese rifles.”
The protest, which began on the morning of April 17, focused on nine basic demands. These included a two-hour reduction in working time during Ramadan, a five-hour reduction in working time every Friday, which is already a Bangladeshi national holiday, salary increases, timely payment of wages and full disbursement of other outstanding benefits. The workers also demanded an end to difficult working and living conditions.
A construction worker, Md Rafique, told the Daily Star on April 21, almost all workers faced unsanitary and overcrowded housing, as well as unsanitary water supplies and toilets.
A Daily Star The reporter who visited the construction project after the police attack noted the terrible conditions: “The housing units were unsanitary and crowded, and the toilets used by the workers were so unsanitary that it would be difficult to expect. than anyone else uses them. The drain adjacent to their accommodation was seen overflowing with human waste and smelling rancid.
The S. Alam Group, a Bangladeshi construction conglomerate, is currently building the $ 2.4 billion power plant for Chinese company Shandong Teijun Electric Power Engineering. The project employs around 3,500 Bangladeshis and 853 Chinese workers. Most of the local workers are hired by various outsourcing companies.
The killings further underscore the government’s authoritarian response to rising worker activism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the police a free hand to suppress workers’ struggles and their political opponents.
An editorial in Daily Star said: “Firearms in the hands of the police are more common these days than batons or batons. And the police unfortunately become too ready to shoot in these situations. Five years ago, in April 2016, police shot dead four villagers who were protesting against the forced acquisition of their land for the project.
As outrage erupted over the deadly attack on construction workers, police began to concoct stories about the protest.
Asked by a Daily Star The reporter, the Chittagong District Police Superintendent, falsely claimed that the protesters “attempted to attack Chinese workers as part of the project.” They even assaulted their colleagues and police personnel and set fire to several properties in the project. A police case statement even claimed that the workers “opened fire on the police.”
Contrary to these trumped-up claims, an investigating police officer admitted that no policeman was shot dead during the clash and that no Chinese worker was injured.
Two bogus cases have been filed against construction workers – one by Banshkhali police and the other by the chief project coordinator. The first case claims that between 2,000 and 2,500 unidentified people attacked the police. The other case alleges that 22 named people and more than 1,050 unidentified people vandalized and looted the plant.
Workers hiring companies reported that the police assault was so severe that workers quit because they feared arrest. Belal Hossain, an electrician who was shot in the right leg, told the New Age that he would never work there again.
The Chittagong District Administration formed a four-member committee and the police established a three-member committee to “investigate” the incident. These committees will serve to cover up what happened and protect those responsible for the murderous police aggression.
Faced with growing outrage over the brutal attack, unions and opposition political parties, including Stalinist-controlled organizations, staged protests to allay the anger.
On April 17, the Socialist Students’ Front demonstrated at Dhaka University over the attack. Two days later, the Bangladesh Trade Union Center, controlled by the Communist Stalinist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), gathered outside the National Press Club in Dhaka to demand the arrest of the police responsible for the killings and adequate compensation for affected families.
Garment sector unions, such as Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad and Garments Sramik Odhikar Parishad, who work with garment factory owners, staged separate protests last Wednesday to demand a judicial inquiry.
The Democratic Left Alliance, a coalition of eight so-called left-wing parties, including the CPB, met in Jashore on Sunday. Alliance coordinator Rashid Firoz called on the government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry.
Ain O Salish Kendra, a leading human rights organization, called on the government to take legal action against those involved in the shootings and the withdrawal of frameup cases against construction workers.
Despite these protests, the Bangladeshi unions and Stalinist parties adapted to Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian methods and suppressed workers’ struggles for their rights. The Stalinist Workers’ Party is currently a partner of the regime led by Hasina’s Awami League.
The Hasina government is facing a wave of protests from workers in various sectors, including the jute and garment industries, in response to low wages and rising COVID-19 infections.
In July, Bangladeshi courts jailed two jute factory union activists amid growing worker protests over the closure of 25 state-owned jute factories and the dismissal of 50,000 workers.
In February, hundreds of Dhaka North City Corporation garbage collection workers demonstrated in defense of threatened jobs. On April 17, around 500 rickshaw pullers marched through the town of Barishal asking for food rations, a monthly cash payment of US $ 59 and free treatment for coronavirus victims.
Bangladesh is currently on lockdown – April 14-28 – in response to the rise in coronavirus infections. The country now has more than 730,000 cases and 10,600 deaths.
The Bangladeshi government’s response to the pandemic has resulted in 14.7% or 24.5 million of the country’s “vulnerable non-poor” falling into poverty, according to a recent survey by the Center for Research on Power and Participation. and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development.
Last week, Prime Minister Hasina responded by announcing that her government would provide just $ 1.24 million in financial assistance to 3.6 million of the poorest families affected by the pandemic.