44 former employees of the erstwhile Times of India (TOI) printing press in Patna, Bihar are on an indefinite protest against their former employers. Many among the 44 are middle aged men with families to support. Most have spent over two decades of their life working with the organization at a low salary. They are asking for their rights as per Ministry of Labour’s Manisana Wage Board for recommendations notified by the Government for journalists, non-journalists and other news agency employees.
When the TOI was showing no signs of adhering to the notifications, the printing press employees filed a case against the paper in the Supreme Court. After a decade of struugle, when the court appeared to favor the employee’s demands, TOI decided to pull the rug from under their feet. On the 15th of July, 2011, the last paper was printed in the TOI press. The press was closed. The printing was outsourced. The 44 employees found themselves cheated by world’s largest English media daily, or as it likes to call itself ‘the masthead of the nation’.
There was a feeling of great betrayal among the employees. They decided to hold an indefinite protest for their rights. They had hoped that their story would be newsworthy and that they would find popular support through the media. The dharna began. Reporters and photographers arrived. Interviews and photos were taken but nothing came through in the papers. The employees allege a conspiracy. After all, ToI is a part of Benett, Coleman & Co. otherwise known as Times Group, the biggest mass media company in the country which exercises substantial influence on the information that passes through the system.
A whole year has passed and the voice and struggle of the employees have gone unheard. But they have persisted and stuck together. As their strike enters its 300th day, the former employees are feeling the pinch. Their struggle has been emotionally tiring. Without steady work, their families, the education of their children are feeling the financial crunch. They are suffering.
The protest has already had a casualty in their comrade Mr. Dinesh Singh who has passed away because he did not have adequate money for treatment. His wife continues his protest but his older child had to drop out of his education to provide for the family.
Community Correspondent Ajeet Bahadur was passing through Patna when he saw the protestors and went across to inquire. “It is shocking,” he says. “It shows the lack of conscience in Times of India as an organization. To mistreat its employees and close down the press is one thing. But for a newspaper to take away the right to speech of a group of oppressed individuals is immoral and cruel. It goes against the very principle. It betrays the trust that over 8 million readers across the country have placed in it.”