Why A Workers’ Rights Activist Has Jumped Into The Electoral Fray

Aditi, a member of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India, has contested elections multiple times at both local and national levels but has never won. She says that winning was never the point

In an election season full of flag waving and chest thumping, Aditi, 30, is a rare contestant – she is not fazed by electoral battles. A member of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India (RWPI), an independent political party built by the working class of India, she has never won an election. But that has not deterred her from contesting elections multiple times. Organising on the ground matters as much as electoral victories, says the candidate contesting from North West Delhi.

What we want is to strengthen the fight for socialism which must happen alongside contesting elections,” says Aditi.

Aditi, who prefers to go by her first name, contested Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 2019 – at 25 then, she was the youngest candidate from Delhi’s North West constituency. In 2020, she contested the Delhi assembly elections from Narela; a year later she contested the corporation by-elections from Rohini Ward No. 28, and the next year she again contested the same election but from Shahbad Dairy.

We meet Aditi at a press conference organised by RWPI last Sunday. The gathering was sparse at the event where the party releases its manifesto and among a big part of it are the city’s Anganwadi workers who are rallying behind the RWPI because it has promised minimum wages and recognition for all scheme workers as government employees.

The party’s other election promises include constitutional right to employment, abolition of the contract system, national minimum wage of Rs 30,000, equal and free access to healthcare and education, repeal of the four labour codes, and stricter laws against all forms of caste, and religious discrimination.

The RWPI is fielding five candidates across four states – Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Apart from Aditi, Yogesh, another party member, is contesting from Delhi’s North East constituency, primed for a tussle between Congress candidate Kanhaiya Kumar and BJP’s sitting MP Manoj Tiwari.

Deep-seated patriarchal norms govern women’s political participation in Indian politics at all levels. But several women leaders across age groups are pushing back and emerging as leaders, as BehanBox has reported here, here, here, here, here and here. 

Election vs Revolution

The RWPI was established in 2018 after several people associated with Delhi’s workers’ unions and Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, along with student activists, came together. “We formed a party because we realised that there is a need for us to enter parliamentary politics to affect policy level changes,” says Aditi.

Over the last two decades, left parties, prominent among them, the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India(M), Revolutionary Socialist Party and the All India Forward Bloc, in India have witnessed a steep decline in electoral performance. In the current Lok Sabha, there are only five MPs from this band of parties. 

At the press conference of the RWPI’s manifesto release. Their party’s election symbol is the karni or trowel to symbolise the working class’s labour.

The RWPI says it believes in the formation of a socialist state through a revolution but it also points to the gap between parliamentary and revolutionary politics.

“That is a never-ending debate. Chunaav se kraanti nahi aayegi (elections will not bring a revolution) and we are not a chunaavbaaz party like the CPI or the CPI (M). Participation in elections is a tactical choice…taki mazdooron ke haqo ke liye mazdoor varg se bhi satta mein log shaamil ho (so that the working class can be included in the fight for workers’ rights),” says Aditi.

The workers led party is currently spread across 13 states in India. In Delhi, RWPI primarily functions in the bastis and industrial areas of North East and North West Delhi. 

‘I’m Staying With My Dreams’

Aditi moved from her hometown in Rohtak in Haryana to Shahbad Dairy in Delhi in 2018 with the intention of working for the capital city’s industrial workers scattered across Shahbad Dairy, Bawana, Azadpur, Mangolpuri and Jahangirpuri. This was also when she joined the RWPI. Most industrial workers in these areas work in factories that produce textiles, electronics, automotive parts and so on.

Aditi also tutors children from 8th-12th grades in the area but she says she never earns more than Rs 5000 a month. Her parents are not thrilled with her choices and routinely ask her to get married and get a job. “My parents say that I’ll soon get tired of this lifestyle and rush home. Par yeh ek ideology ki baat hain, aur main apne sapno ko leke chal rahi hoon (this is about ideology, and I am moving forward with my dreams),” she says.

Of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, North West is the only one reserved for Dalits. Census data from 2011 shows that 19.1% of the population in North West Delhi is Dalit. This year, this constituency, which comprises 10 Assembly segments, is preparing for a battle between BJP’s Yogender Chandoliya and INDIA bloc’s Congress candidate, Udit Raj. In 2019, the BJP candidate Hans Raj Hans won the seat with over 8,48,663 votes, defeating AAP’s Gugan Singh Ranga and Congress’ Rajesh Lilothia.

Aditi election campaigning in North West Delhi/Aditi

“Despite Chandoliya’s claims at election rallies that the region has benefitted from Modi’s ‘Viksit Bharat’, the ground reality is different,” says Aditi. Residents complain of lack of basic amenities, like hospitals and drinking water. The lack of a promised metro connectivity across Rithala, Bawana and Narela has affected employment opportunities.

Dealing With Family Pressures

Growing up, Aditi wanted to be a doctor or an IAS officer so she could make a difference to people’s lives. But after her 12th boards, she wasn’t too sure if she wanted to become either one of these. “There was pressure from my family to do an MBBS degree. I even cleared NEET. But I didn’t want to. Toh maine ghar chodh diya tha (so I left home),” says Aditi.

This decision was hard but one she feels in retrospect was necessary. “I needed freedom and I had friends who took care of me,” she recalls. Aditi eventually joined the Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak for a Bachelor’s degree in science. But keeping herself motivated to study the course remained a struggle, she says.

It is in the university that she was introduced to activism. “I would read the works of Bhagat Singh, Lenin and Nikolai Ostrovsky and feel inspired to be part of mass movements,” says Aditi. She joined the DISHA Chattra Sangathan, a student organisation, and became active in student politics. “My days and nights were spent in campaigning and mobilising students on issues of fee hike, filling of reserved seats, seat cut, denial of scholarships, leading study circles, and protesting against hostel curfew,” says Aditi.

In 2018, the young women of MDU led a massive campaign against the university’s arbitrary curfew timings. “It was due to our resistance that MDU had increased the curfew timing to the hostel compound from 7pm to 8pm,” says Aditi.

Aditi joined the M.SC programme in Microbiology but dropped out after a year. All the time spent in the labs was time away from collectivising, especially the marginalised groups, she says. She had also started participating in industrial and factory workers’ protests for minimum wages and better working conditions in Delhi’s Azadpur Industrial Area during her college.

“During these visits I would see the huge disparity between the working class of our country and its wealthiest sections. Here, workers’ rights were constantly violated, and they had no access to amenities,” says Aditi. Eventually, she moved to Delhi’s Shahbad Dairy in 2018.

But this life has also meant an estrangement from her family. “I visit them every once in a while, but I don’t have the best relationship with them. They keep asking: ‘Kitna karogi gareebon ki sewa (How much will you work for the poor?)’,” says Aditi with a forlorn smile. It was her mother who taught her about Bhagat Singh. “Par wahi baat hain na, har ghar mein Bhagat Singh paida ho, magar padosi ke ghar mein ho (everyone wants a Bhagat Singh to be born but not in their own homes),” Aditi quips.

Violence And Workers’ Struggles

Her work is challenging: “There is an increasing atmosphere of police repression, intimidation, and violence on workers,” says Aditi. In 2017, Aditi took part in a protest demonstration in Haryana’s Kaithal district demanding an underpass on the national highway in Kalayat to prevent deaths caused by accidents. However, police forces disrupted the protests and booked Aditi under sections 147, 149, 283, 341, 506 of the IPC and 8 of the National Highways Act. The case is ongoing, and the underpass has still not been constructed. 

Since then, being detained by the police has been routine. In 2022, Aditi participated in a protest in Delhi’s Bikaner House after the death of Inder Meghwal, a nine-year old Dalit boy who was killed by his teacher for drinking water from the pot meant for ‘upper castes.’ She along with another woman was detained by the police under section 144 of CRPC and section 188 of the IPC.

On March 3, workers from the Bawana Industrial Area went on a strike to demand minimum wages for workers in the unorganised section at Jantar Mantar. Several workers and her comrades from the party were lathicharged by the police on the way to Jantar Mantar. “Eight workers were detained and sent to Tihar jail for a day. There they were brutally beaten up. Two of our members suffered broken eardrums from the beatings causing 90% hearing loss,” claims Aditi. 

Aditi during the Bhagat Singh Jan Adhikar Yatra (BSJAY), a 3-month long rally that passed through 9 states of India covering 80 districts.

Factory workers of the Bawana Industrial area have from time to time gone on strike against terrible working conditions, demand for minimum wage, and stricter implementation of factory laws to ensure their security.

“Workers here earn between Rs 5000-6000, way below the Delhi state mandated minimum wage of Rs 17,494,” says Aditi. The area is also notorious for factory fires. In 2018, 17 workers lost their lives in a fire that broke out in a factory. As recently as 13 May, 2024, 7 workers were injured in a fire that broke out in a chemical factory there.

Injustices All Around

Securing funds for an election campaign is tough for those with few resources, she says. And the party doesn’t believe in accepting funds from foreign companies, governments, NGOs, funding agencies, trusts etc. “All our campaigns function through the contributions and resources given by individuals from the working class and masses. Hum logon ke dam pe chalte hain (we bank on people power). Even if it’s Rs 20 or Rs 100, every bit counts,” adds Aditi.

Last year in December, RWPI along with other civil society organisations led a 8500 km Bhagat Singh Jan Adhikar Yatra (BSJAY), a 3-month long rally that passed through the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh covering 80 districts.

The rally raised issues on unemployment, inflation, education, and healthcare, and the rising communalism in the country, she says. “Through our rally we connected with thousands of working class people across the nation. We don’t have specific election campaigns, but this rally is important for us especially in a country that is so polarised,” adds Aditi.

Is she demoralised given the rising cases of misinformation, communalism, and attack on dissent? “Our world is so technologically advanced. We have found life on Mars. We have sent people on the Chandrayaan. But in the capital’s industrial areas, kids don’t even have a scrap of paper or a pen. This is a grave injustice, for which we must all fight together,” says Aditi.

  • Ankita Dhar is a reporter with Behanbox. She is also a digital artist whose artwork has documented political prisoners in India.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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