On August 7, India’s oldest publishing house went on a strike. Though regrettable, the strike didn’t come as a surprise to those who know the employee conditions at Gita Press.
The NGO is known for providing religious books to the masses at a very low cost. The low cost of sale, though makes the reader happy, has made the life of workers miserable. They get a pay far lower than rest of the publishing houses and in ensuring that the cost of publishing books remain low, workers suffer even more. While, Gita Press Trustees and employees are still trying to resolve their tiff, on August 31 PM Modi launched the digital version of Ramcharitmanas in New Delhi. Gita Press is credited for making Ramcharitmanas popular worldwide with millions of copies sold. Even though there is no official report of any government intervention in the matter, a Facebook post suggests that the PM may have enquired about it, following which Gita Press tweeted their reassurance to Modi.
In the middle of this crisis, some organisations are extending their help to the publishing house with the hope that the matter is resolved as soon as possible. Aligarh’s Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) has expressed grave concern over the strike in Gita Press.
MCCI had not only sent a letter of support to them showing support, but had also sent a cheque of Rs.11,111 to the Gita Press, so as to help it meet the demands of the employees who have been on strike for three weeks. Talking about the issue to news agency IANS
, MCCI director Jasim Mohammadm had also urged others to come forward and help struggling NGO:
“Gita Press is the oldest publication house in the country providing religious books to the people at low cost. Like the Gorakhnath temple, the Gita Press too has become an identity of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Gita Press is a symbol of our composite culture. So people from all walks of life and religions should rise to the occasion and extend their help to Gita Press to overcome its crisis.” Meanwhile, the stand-off has already resulted in 10 rounds of talks between the NGO Trustees and the employees, with the latest talks being held this past Tuesday.
While the next round of talks are slated for September 4, the talks on Tuesday failed to yield any result as the focus had moved from increasing salaries and wages to the revocation of five expelled temporary employees who were accused of hampering press operations and leading a protest. These employees were expelled back in December 2014. Gita Press has about 540 odd workers – 200 permanent, 340 contractual, with the contractual employees working on an ad hoc basis while being offered salaries as low as 4000-5000 per month.