The strike by Central government employees started exactly at midnight of 11/12 July 1960 as given notice of. Railway, P and T, Defence civilians, Civil Aviation and other employees having night shifts stopped work at 24.00 hours and walked out. The government also reacted by arresting, jailing, terminating and suspending workers in tens of jthousands throughout India. In Dohad, railway workers were shot dead. The situation in Kerala was not different. The newspapers on 12th July carried head line news of the strike.
In Cannanore Telephone Exchange, some senior officials did not participate, probably due to fear of punishments. All the comrades in the P and T Home, lady comrades K.P.Vijaya Lakshmi, T.C.Visalakshy, T.P.Paru Kutty, C.H.Krishnaveni and many others participated in the strike, despite threat of dismissals, arrests etc.
On the first day itself, Com.P.Narayanan, T.O., Payyanur and former Branch Secretary (later Circle President of Telecom Class III Union) was arrested and put in lock-up. Post Master, Panoor, Com.N.P.Padmanabhan (later Convener, P and T Co-ordination Committee, Secretary NFPTE), was arrested as also Coms.K.P.Ramakrishnan ( retired as D.E.T.) , V.Narayanan Kutty from Tellicherry Exchange and Com.K.Narayanan of Tellicherry HPO. These retaliatory actions only cemented the determination of the striking workers. Throughout Kerala, similar arrests were made.
Police and Special Branch started going to the residences of the striking workers with the help of Youth Congress volunteers to arrest them. But the strikers went underground to avoid arrest. Police went to the ladies hostel, but did not arrest them. We, in P and T Home, used to go out early in the morning and will return in night only. One day I spent most of the time in the Christian cemetery opposite the telephone exchange exploring the tombs and reading the inscriptions. I could see what was happening in the exchange. Due to high boundary wall and thick foliage, nobody could see inside of cemetery.
One day, M.Achuthan Kutty and I entered a tea shop in the sea side for taking tiffin. Two persons were seriously talking about strike. One person was telling that ‘One Namboodiri is the leader of telephone employees and he has to be caught.’ We heard, but without noticing them ordered tea, drank and left the place. Obviously they did not know us.
I was so tired when returned to the lodge one night, that I closed the door and went to sleep. It was morning when I woke up. Probably nobody had come in night. I was surprised to see a report in the newspaper, that V.A.Narayanan Namboodiri along with A.Kandasamy has been arrested from a hiding place. We could not go to Police station to enquire, as we will be arrested. Next day another report was seen that both Namboodiri and Kandasamy has been brought before the Magistrate and have been punished with 6 months rigorous imprisonment and sent to Cannanore Central Jail. We learnt later that Com.M.N.Narayanan Namboodiri, another inmate of the lodge, along with Com. Kandasamy, Branch Secretary of the union, who was working at Baliapattm, had come to lodge in night and were talking outside, when police and youth Congress volunteers came. They were arrested. Hearing the name Namboodiri, police thought that the person is union leader V.A.Narayanan Namboodiri and hence the confusion. When Magistrate asked, whether they have struck work, they said in affirmative and were punished and jailed. Seeing the news in Mathrubhoomi daily, my elder brother came to telephone exchange to enquire. Strike Officers there told my brother that ‘he is in jail and if you go on enquiring about him, you also will be put in jail’. My brother went to Central Jail and sought permission to meet. M.N.N., who came out told him that ‘your brother is in underground and that newspaper report is a mistake’.
Forty lady telephone operators of Calicut, who struck work, were arrested and brought to Cannanore Central Jail. They were taken on bail next day by comrades who came from Calicut. They had not taken any food from the jail since it was dirty and uneatable. We took them to Poduval Hotel, but the owner denied food stating that he also will be arrested if food is supplied to strikers. Food was denied from the nearby Madras Hotel also on the same reason.
Com.Thayath Raghavan, well known leader of Praja Socialist Party and husband of Com.T.C.Visalakdhy, herself a striker, came to rescue. Conjee (Rice porridge) was prepared from his house and supplied. The lady workers returned to Calicut.
In other places also many officials were arrested and put to jail. The strike was withdrawn on 16th July by those leaders outside, unable to face the state terror and heavy victimisation. ( Detailed reports of the strike, arrests etc. in Kerala and outside is recorded in detail in the book on 1960 strike jointly authored by me and Com.P.V.Chandrasekharan, going to be shortly published in connection with the 60th year anniversary of the strike). (to be continued).
Photos (1&2) Book History of P& T TU Movement. (3) Com.P.Narayanan (4) V.A.N.Namboodiri and M.N.N.Namboodiri (5) N.P.Padmanabhan