July 21, 2024
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA

Jute Mill Closure Leaves 4,000 Workers Jobless in West Bengal

Jute mill

Amirul Laskar, a 40-year-old former worker at the Delta Jute Mill in Manikpur village near Kolkata, has been jobless for the past three months following the mill’s closure due to financial losses. This shutdown has left Laskar struggling to provide for his household, including his parents, wife, and 18-month-old daughter. He recalls that such disruptions occurred several times last year, with work resuming sporadically, but this year has seen no improvement. Desperate to support his family, Laskar is considering migrating to another state in search of employment.

Laskar is among 4,000 workers affected by the mill’s shutdown in February. The jute industry, often called the golden fibre, is a major economic sector in West Bengal, supporting around 4.8 million people, including four million farmers. India, the largest jute producer globally, meets 95% of its jute demand domestically, with the rest being exported. Despite the industry’s significance, workers and their families feel neglected, receiving political attention only during election seasons.

As national elections approach, with polls scheduled in the jute belt of West Bengal on May 20, political rhetoric intensifies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) face off against the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), a coalition led by the Indian National Congress. Modi has accused the opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC), which governs the state, of causing the industry’s decline and worker misery. He highlighted the federal government’s mandate for grain packing in jute bags as a business booster.

However, workers like Laskar blame both the TMC and BJP for their dire situation. They feel abandoned, noting that politicians rarely visit them post-elections. Laskar recalls the last politician’s visit over a decade ago during the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) rule. Disillusioned, he plans to vote for the CPIM this time. Asma Khatun, another mill worker’s wife, describes their living conditions as dire, with overflowing drains and sewage entering homes during heavy rains, making the environment unbearable and causing frequent illnesses.

Local leaders affirm that such poor conditions are widespread across jute mills. CPIM leader Kayum Sheikh criticizes mill owners for neglecting hygiene, noting common issues like leaking pipes, garbage, and even power cuts following mill closures. Workers report that mainstream candidates have avoided seeking their votes, likely fearing their anger. The CPIM candidate, however, has pledged to address their problems, offering a glimmer of hope to the disenfranchised mill workers.

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