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Syces (Horse attendants) of the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) Unionize — Lose Their Jobs and Homes

March 5, 2012
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For the past two weeks, over a 1000 Syces (or horse attendants) have been left destitute, living in the streets due to a workers’ dispute over a nominal wage hike. According to The Hindu, their current condition has worsened as hunger, diarrhea and fever has set in. Most of the syces are migrant workers from Bihar and predominantly Muslim and Dalit.

We are nothing but animals to everybody. At the BTC we used to sleep in the stables along with the horses. Here we are sleeping next to street dogs. — Vinod Raj (age 35)

We have not bathed in several days. We are forced to defecate in the open,” said Khamruddin (age 68), who has been a syce since the age of 15.

From Bangalore activists:

On 15th February, 2012, the Bangalore Turf Club tried to introduce a ten year jail sentence penalty for the workers who care for the horses on its premises with in the event of the death of an animal. The turf club tried to introduce a clause stipulating such a penalty, supposedly under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, in their employment contract with the 1000-odd migrant workers who have toiled night and day for decades to keep the horses fed, clean, and in good shape to run in the weekly horse races organized in the Bangalore Race Course. When their lawyer Manjunath explained this clause and its consequences, the workers indignantly refused to sign. They were then intimidated by gundas and ousted from the premises of the club which for many constitutes their only home in Bangalore city. Police then came to the area where they were sleeping two days later and beat up and dragged several workers into custody, where 26 workers remain imprisoned under false charges of violence under Section 307 of the IPC.

Workers reported that policeperson Hanumantharayappa told them “Ek hath ek pair kaatke vapas Bihar bhej denge. Yeh race course owner ka nahi trainer ka nahi humara hai”. When in jail, one worker was put on the phone with his owner who said he would be released if he would leave the strike and return to work. Now the remaining workers have been kicked out of the Turf club, which was both their source of income, and their home. What is more, having not been paid since January, they have been living in Banappa Park and the nearby mosques in Bangalore without money, food, fresh clothes, or a bath for the last eighteen days.

Known as ‘syces’, these workers’ duties are to stay with the horse they are assigned to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They sleep beside the horse. In the morning, their first duty is to clean off any horse urine and feces generated during the night. They then are to bathe the horse, groom it, massage it, and take it for its exercise or running practice. They keep the horse fed and in good health. The horses themselves are worth upto 1 crore, or a minimum of 6-7 lakhs. The syces are on-call all day – whenever the owner or horserider demands the horse, even if the syces are in the middle of a meal or sleep, they have to immediately accompany the horse wherever it goes. For this non-stop work they are currently paid Rs. 4,800 per month. They have been struggling for a long time for an increase in wages. Most of the syces have been in the Turf club for 15-40 years. For all these years, they have worked year round, every day, with no sick leave or emergency leave and only a month’s planned vacation per year, away from their families in a solitary existence. The work is dangerous. One worker showed me the scars on his abdomen from a kick which put him in the hospital, and the workers reported deaths of friends Mahtab and Sahdev after succumbing to injuries from kicks by the horses.

Now, abruptly, around 900 of the 1000 odd workers are outside the Turf club. A hundred or so have been retained under threats to continue the work of the club and another 100 or so fresh, inexperienced local workers have been hired to help.

Specially trained, these syces come mostly from Bihar, but also from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and some even come from Karnataka. The workers are mostly Muslim and/or dalit. Many have said they have faced verbal abuse for being from another part of the country, and for being Muslim or dalit. Kareemal bhai, rage in his eyes, said “The English left our country but now these people treat us like slaves. They treat us like we are from worthless because we are Muslim and from other parts of the country. The owners keep us hungry because we are supposed to stay with the horses as long as they want, not taking breaks for food if they do not want us to leave. Even if we are eating or asleep, whenever the owners call, we have to immediately wake up and run. It is hard to get leave, and in case of a family emergency we are simply not allowed to leave. The owners go live in their AC and make so much money off the horse, when we are the people doing the hard work of keeping the horses alive and healthy. Their money is made out of our blood.”

Tasleem bhai says “We have families even if we are not allowed to stay with them. The money we get for this labor is not enough to sustain our families. Earlier before inflation it was ok. Now even if we live besides the horses and send most of our money home, it is not enough”. As Paswan bhai says “We work like this so that our children can at least get an education and have a better life. We cannot educate our children and sustain our families on this salary. Then why should we continue living this life? Once this life begins, without making savings, it is like a trap. One can only continue laboring like this, without any end in sight. For what reason should we do this? Now I just want the settlement of my unpaid wages. Then I will leave. Enough is enough”.

These workers have been laboring and living in the Turf Club for decades. Rajendra bhai recalls coming from Samajthipur Bihar to Bangalore when he was 12 years old in 1976. His salary then was 40 Rs. per month. But as Ram Vilas bhai says with tears accumulating in his eyes “The first thing we do every day is to clean the shit and piss of horses. If the horse is in failing shape, the workers are forced to leave and are not even paid full wages for the work they did. If it were not for our labor these rich people would never be able to maintain their horses value for crores of rupees and make so much money organizing betting at the races. It is time they treated us at least like human beings”.

Advocates Manjunath, Mr Balan of AITUC, and several Dalit and human rights organizations are supporting this struggle. Please send solidarity messages to Mr Balan balantuactivist@yahoo.com and newsocialist.in@gmail.com. We also request all of you to flood mails, faxes (phone calls if possible) to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Bangalore Turf Club etc. (a copy of protest/solidarity message to New Socialist Alternative will help to build up the struggle further).

1.D.V. Sadananda Gowda
Chief Minister of Karnataka,
Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore – 560233
Phone : +(91)-(80)-22253414, 22253424, 22386514, 22092354
Fax : +(91)-(80)-22253743, 22258150
E-mail : cm@kar.nic.in

2.BANGALORE TURF CLUB LTD.

P.O. Box. No.5038,Race Course Road, Bangalore – 560 001. Phone +91 – 80 – 2226 2391-2-3-52226 6421 / 2226 0942 / 2226 0662 / 22253969 Fax +91 – 80 – 2225 6995 Email secbtc@yahoo.com Website: http://www.bangaloreraces.com

The trainers and owners of the BTC Managing Committee has claimed that an agreement was reached and that the agitation is baseless. However, as union leaders have pointed out — the wage hike was agreed upon with questionable legal binding and furthermore, with little acknowledgement of the slave conditions in which these workers have been subsisting so far.

There was a meeting held with the Chief Minister of Karnataka, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who has been non-committal and unresponsive to the crisis.

D.V. Sadananda Gowda’s twitter handle is: @dvscm

Further coverage here:

The Hindu: Syces sleep outside labour commissioner’s office

New Socialist Alternative: Our Lives are Worse than Street Dogs

DNA: Violence at Bangalore Turf Club

Updated:

Bihar Migrant workers, working in Bangalore Turf Club as Syces at Bannappa Park.

Excerpt from Jagadish G Chandra:

Is is astonishingly true that these workers at BTC remained faceless and voiceless for decades and were kept amidst all the wealth that is splashed around in the extravaganza called Horse Racing. Today it is ironic that these workers have to for the Godot to rescue them from penury. It is indeed shame on all of us that we have become so powerless that the Workers’ Struggles have to be lead by Mafia Dons turned do-gooder fixers (Horse Owners themselves).

I do not know about other activists in the movement, but I hold my head in utter shame.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2012 12:46 pm

    Phone nos of the worker leaders / lawyers would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2012 5:19 pm

    you can contact Mr. jagadish chandra – +91 9448394365. He will be able to give more details.

  3. March 6, 2012 5:25 pm

    I did. I met some of the workers late this evening.

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