Students’ protest in Bihar: Halt the privatisation of railways

On 25th October, 2019 students took out a massive demonstration and carried out a campaign to block trains. This campaign was carried out in several cities of Bihar – Patna, Aarah, Sasaram, Nawada, Aurangabad, Samastipur and other cities. Thousands of student-youth participated in these protests; such a widespread protest had not been witnessed before. The protests started with blocking roads in Sasaram. When the police removed the students from there, they moved to the railway station and sat on the rail tracks and blocked the trains coming from and going to Mugalsarai. Nearly 20 trains were blocked between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Bihar students protest against railway privatisation
Bihar students protest against railway privatisation
Bihar students protest against railway privatisation

Students started gathering from the morning in several stations. They were holding banners with the demand, “Halt the privatisation of railways!” The air was resounding with thunderous slogans of “Halt the privatisation and corporatisation of railways!” “Stop the sale of railways to capitalists!” “Railways are the property of the Indian people and not private property!” “Begin recruitment immediately!” “Fill the vacant posts in railways immediately!” “We are with the railway workers!” “This is just the beginning, the struggle is going to intensify!” The students demonstrated on the tracks in several stations; they marched on the tracks in Aurangabad and stopped trains in Nawada. In Patna, there were massive demonstrations against the privatisation of railways and termination of more than 3.5 lakh posts.

The police used lathi charge and tear gas to suppress the protests and at the end of this, they arrested 18 students. The police tried to identify the remaining protestors through use of video so that they could arrest and harass them as well.

The students were very angry that government jobs would be unavailable due to the privatisation of the railways. They pointed out that there were no vacancies because of privatisation of railways and there were no jobs for jobless youth. The students were echoing this in several districts across the state. The protestors were pointing out that with privatisation of railways, their hopes for a government job were all but lost; till now, Indian Railways was one of the largest employers.

The Ministry of Railways has formed a committee to look into the privatisation of 50 railway stations and 150 trains. This is going on even as Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has been claiming that “government is not privatizing railways, it is only planning to bring in public-private partnership.”

According to the administration, talk of privatisation is based on rumours. The student protestors questioned, “if privatisation of railways is only a rumour, then why is it that all of a sudden the jobs in railways are drying out? And why is the government not coming clean with how this PPP model that it is thinking of is going to be implemented on the ground? To what extent would the private sector be participating?” The students were of the view that the opposition of railway workers alone will not suffice. Students would have to play their role in order to realize victory in this struggle, i.e. to defeat the privatisation, corporatization and outsourcing work in the railways.

It is a fact that the government is proceeding with the privatisation of railways. Its functions are being broken into parts and being sold off to the capitalists. Just recently, the first Indian privat train “Tejas” has been launched. This has been opposed by every section of railways. It provoked several demonstrations and blockade of trains. The privatisation of railways is being opposed by railway unions, political parties and student organisations.

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