Nokku Kooli: In God's own Kerala, labourers extort with dirty looks
6, Jul 2018, 7:57 AM
When households, merchants or builders require labourers to unload materials, individual trade union activists demand a high price for the labour. And when people opt for machines or cheap labour from elsewhere, this gang will still demand the price to stand there and watch the process, earning them the tag of Nokku Kooli. While the union earns Rs 15 for one tipper load, Nokku Kooli earns them Rs 3000. This practice has gained notoriety all over Kerala.
The racket is so fearsome that merchants and ordinary people, the usual victims of Nokku Kooli, are hesitant to even talk about it openly. One of the merchants in Kasaragod, on the condition of anonymity, said that despite government's recent promise of stern action, the practice is still quite rampant in southern parts of the state, though not so much in his part of the town. "There were days when they would aggressively demand a lot of money. If they unload 50 bags, they charge Rs 5 per bag. So we have to pay Rs 250," he said.
The Kerala government banned it on May 1 this year, making the state Nokku Kooli-free on May Day. Two months down the line, it still exists. "Our union hasn't received any complaints. If they do, strict action will be taken. However, due to the disrepute of Nokku Kooli, several innocent coolies are not receiving work," said Muthali Parakattu of the Swatantra Thozhilali Union (STU).
But, Centre for Indian Trade Union - CITU - affiliated to the Communist Party is in a state of denial. "From 2018, May 1st, gawking wages are banned in Kerala. The state government has also said that those who take gawking wages will be punished. We (CITU) say that this rule is a good thing. It's said that those who do not abide by the rule, will be punished and that their license will be confiscated. After the announcement of the new rule, no reports of Nokku Kooli have emerged," said CITU leader T Babu.
Political affiliation gives these unions a stiff backing, acting as the drop-impact cushioning effect. "Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is an independent union not having any political affiliations," said Narayana of the BMS, "On the other hand, INTUC is under the Congress, CITU is with CPM, AITUC is with CPI. All these have political affiliations."