48. POLICE ATTACK ON TELEPHONE EXCHANGE, CALICUT.
Most unexpected and atrocious attack on the Calicut Telephone Exchange by police. The date was 24th August 1985.
Com. Ashraf, employee of Telephone exchange went and complained at the Police Station, near office of Police Commissioner about ill-behaviour of the employees of a private bus. Police interrogated and warned them. This was to end there.
Bus owner used his influence with a higher police officer, who called Ashraf to the station, questioned and beat him. Coms. M.Balasubramanian and P.A.Vijayakumar, union leaders, who went to police station to enquire about the incident were taken in to custody.
Workers naturally became agitated. A large number of telephone employees, including women, marched to Police Station which was near the exchange and demanded that the union leaders be released. Police was not prepared to release them. In addition, charges were framed against them for attacking Police.
Union leaders met District Collector and complained about police excesses. Met Telephone District Manager and demanded immediate action. Since no action, workers started non-co-operation programme from 06.00 P.M. Telephones, including that of police station, became silent.
Questioning of his actions and agitation by staff resulting in stoppage of telephone service might have rubbed the ego of Police Commissioner. He might have lost his mind. At about 7.00 P.M. a large number of police trespassed in to the exchange compound climbing the partition wall, as also gate crashing. They broke doors, entered the high security exchange and beat workers on duty. Costly equipment were smashed and broken. They arrested union leader Com.K.Damodaran and others and took them to police station. Police beat all whom they met. In between, Shri P.Damodaran, Malayala Manorama Reporter, who had come there, also was severely beaten.
After entering Carrier Station, Auto Exchange, Telex etc. and smashing down equipment and beating employees, police teams went to first storey where Trunk and Auto Manuals exchanges functioned. Doors which were bolted from inside afraid of police entry, were forcibly broken and police came wielding their lathis and beating staff on duty. They were also enquiring ‘where is union leader Namboodiri?’. I was working on Trunk Board and informing leaders of political parties and press reporters about the police attack. While they were enquiring for me, escaped avoiding them. All employees including good number of women telephone operators went out of trunk exchange, shouting slogans led by Com. P.Ravindran. Reached the gate, where a large number of public had already gathered.
Coms.M.K.Kelu, District Secretary CPI(M), M.Vasu, District Secretary CITU, Congress leader Shri A.C.Shanmukha Das (later Kerala Minister) and other political leaders also reached by the time. While standing on the gate and addressing the people about the police attack, police tried to pull down and arrest me. Keluettan and Shanmukhdas quickly took me in their car and left the place.
Hundreds of people had reached exchange premises. Police understood that situation was worsening and became panicky. Some jumped the wall back to the Commissioner Office compound and some rushed through the gate.
By this time many employees, who were not on duty had reached the exchange, hearing the news. More than hundred employees including women sat on dharna in the exchange compound. Telephone system completely stopped. District Collector Shri Narayana Kurup and Telephone District Manager Shri S.G.K. Pillai reached the spot by night. By seeing the lahti charged workers, battered equipment and thousands of trunk call documents worth lakhs of rupees destroyed, Collector and TDM stood in silence. The attack and destruction of equipment and documents by police, who are to ensure law and order, baffled the Collector and others.
As per call of all unions, workers went on indefinite strike in night itself demanding strict action against concerned police officers. Even otherwise, it was not possible to do any work with the equipment destroyed. Police were compelled to release arrested workers. Many had to be admitted to Beach General Hospital. While visiting the admitted workers along with Keluettan, Shanmukhdas, Adv. P.K.Kunhirama Poduval and others, there was another attempt to arrest me.
Police Commissioner was in no mood to take action against the police officers, since it was with his knowledge that the attack was made. Struggle had to be intensified. NFPTE, FNPTO and BPTEF jointly called for Non-cooperation at Circle level, which crippled entire P and T services in the state.
Political leaders as well as prominent citizens of Calicut severely criticised the police attack. In addition to the leaders mentioned earlier, S/Shri N.Chandrasekhara Kurup, M.L.A., K.Moosa Kutty, M.L.A., Arangil Sreedharan, former M.P., Murkoth Kunhappa, Advocate Ratna Singh, P.V.Chandran (Mathrubhoomi) and others were in the forefront. Demanded immediate and strict action against the concerned police officers. Front page news with photos of the destroyed equipment etc. was published prominently in all the newspapers with statements of political leaders.
The State government moved fast. DIG Shri R.Padmanabhan was deputed to Calicut to enquire in the incident and discuss with the unions to end the strike. Another attempt was made to arrest me while going to discuss with DIG. The unions demanded that judicial enquiry should be conducted, concerned officers should be suspended and withdrawal of the cases filed against the employees.
After detailed discussion for days, it was almost agreed that the District Collector will conduct an Executive Magisterial Enquiry, three concerned S.I.s will be transferred, action will be taken against the police who entered the exchange and beat the workers and also that the false cases filed against the employees will be withdrawn. But the state Government was not in favour of the suspension of the officers and the talks failed. Hence unions decided to strengthen the agitation.
Citizens forum met again and criticised non-implementtion of the agreement reached by both parties. Entrusted S/Shri M.A.Unneeri Kutty, Sadiri Koya and P.V.Chandran to go to Trivandrum and meet Home Minister.
Secretary Communications Shri Thomas Kora rushed from Delhi to Trivandrum and discussed the matter with Circle Secretaries of P and T Unions. He discussed with state Home Minister also. It was told that the agreement reached with the DIG, except the suspension of S.I.s, will be implemented.
Considering the difficulties being faced by the people for the last four days and on the advice of the circle unions, the Action Committee at Calicut decided to withdraw the agitation.
The struggle could be won due to the united and immediate action which had good public support. It took many days to restore normal work in the exchange as equipment had to be repaired/ replaced. (to be continued)