Thousands of garment factory workers in Bengaluru blocked traffic and set vehicles on fire on Tuesday to protest against changes in provident fund rules that are perceived to puncture the only social safety net for Indians.
Police fired warning shots after the protesters threw stones at the Hebbagodi police station and lathicharged the workers, mostly women, in clashes that damaged property worth crores and injured hundreds.
The violence came on a day Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya announced that the government put off for three more months the move to bar withdrawal of employer’s contribution to the provident fund corpus until they turn 58. The announcement came amid protests by labour unions in several parts of the country.
India’s information technology capital has been tense since Monday when garment workers went on a snap strike and blocked several highways. According to trade union leaders, the police started using force to evict the agitators from the highway. This triggered a violent response from them, Meenakshi Sundaram, a trade union leaders told reporters.
State home minister G Parameshwara, however, claimed the police showed “remarkable restraint”.
He urged the protesters to return to work and said, “The police should not be provoked. We don’t know who is leading this agitation. The leaders should come forward and participate in talks with us.”
“The agitators should know that the state government has nothing to do with this change in PF rules,” he said.
Police said they had to resort to lathicharge and fire teargas shells to disperse the violent protesters in Bengaluru. There are over 12 lakh garment factory workers in the city.
At least two Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation buses and one of Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation were torched, a police officer said. Incidents of vehicles being attacked were reported from other parts of the city.
Traffic jams were reported at various entry and exit points to the city. City police commissioner NS Megharikh said the situation was under control, but there “are some issues” on the city’s outskirts.
“...we are at work, our officers are at the spot, reinforcement has already gone there. The situation is being brought under control,” he said.
Police said other workers, too, have joined garment workers in the protest against the change in PF rules.
People have also launched online campaign against the decision, which was to be implemented from February 10 but was later put on hold till April 30.
Around 15,000 women garment workers had on Monday staged a massive demonstration on the outskirts of Bengaluru, protesting the change in the Provident Fund Act.