‘Hunger strike strongman' Paul Konar forced to end fast on Day 23 after hospitalization – 06/05/08
‘Hunger strike strongman’ Paul Konar forced to end fast on Day 23 after hospitalization
US civil rights leaders celebrate Paul as inspiration to their work
WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. June 5, 2008 – ‘Hunger strike strongman’ Paul Konar, who maintained a fast for 23 straight days to bring a US-Indian labor trafficking chain to justice, was forced off his hunger strike by hospitalization Thursday. Other members of the Indian Workers Congress vowed to carry on his fight, and US civil rights and labor leaders hailed Paul’s strength as an inspiration to their work.
Paul suffered extreme weakness, abdominal pain, and a weak pulse Thursday morning which worsened toward noon. Medical experts confirmed that in spite of Paul’s apparent good health in recent days, he had long since passed the threshold of human safety for a hunger striker.
“We came here to live like human beings, but become victims of human trafficking,” Paul said shortly before being taken by ambulance to George Washington University Medical Center. “I held this hunger strike for the last 23 days not only for the 550 Indians who were trafficked to United States. It is for all people who came and are still coming to this country and living in conditions that amount to modern day slavery.”
(See full statement by Paul and photos of hospitalization at nolaworkerscenter.wordpress.com)
Paul was one of the first five workers who began the hunger strike on May 14 in view of the White House, demanding punishment for labor trafficking chain of US company Signal International and its US and Indian recruiters. A total of 11 other workers have joined the hunger strike at later dates, and four other hunger strikers have been hospitalized. Paul was the only worker who began on May 14 and maintained his fast for 23 straight days.
Tributes from US civil rights and labor leaders poured in upon news of Paul’s hospitalization.
“Against steep odds, Paul Konar and his fellow hunger strikers have taken up the fight against human trafficking, worker exploitation, and the systemic problems with the H2B guest worker program,” said John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, which represents 10 million American workers. “All workers owe a debt to these courageous workers, and particularly to Paul Konar.”
“Mr. Konar’s remarkable strength and courage have taught us the true meaning of fighting for social justice,” said Marielena Hincapie, director of programs with the National Immigration Law Center. “This historic hunger strike has inspired many of us in the U.S. to make even greater sacrifices in order to achieve social change.”
Paul’s fellow workers and hunger strikers vowed to continue his fight for justice until they are granted legal protections to participate in a federal investigation into the traffickers.
“Here in the most powerful country in the world, a 54-year-old man named Paul Konar went 23 days without food, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st century,” said Rajan Pazhambalakode, a former Signal Worker and organizer with the Indian Workers’ Congress. “We are carrying on this mission and continuing the hunger strike until we achieve justice in this country. ‘We shall overcome.’”
The hunger strike followed nearly 18 months of organizing by the workers, who paid US and Indian recruiters up to $20,000 apiece for false promises of permanent residency and green cards. Instead they received 10-month temporary H2B guest worker visas and worked at Signal’s Gulf Coast shipyards under deplorable conditions.
The workers escaped Signal’s labor camps in March 2008, made a 10-day satyagraha from New Orleans to Washington, DC. They are demanding continued presence in the US to participate in an official investigation into their case, US Congressional hearings into abuses of guest workers, and Indian government pressure on the US to protect future guest workers.
Earlier this week, the workers won the prestigious 2008 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award for their “courageous stand against … modern-day slavery in the world’s richest nation.”
On June 11, 2008, the hunger strike will culminate in a major rally at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, DC. The workers will call for a response to their demands for continued presence in the US to help bring the traffickers to justice, and for protections for future workers.
“The US and Indian governments still refuse to open their eyes to the reality of guest worker programs,” said Sabulal Vijayan, another former Signal Worker and organizer with the Indian Workers’ Congress. “On June 11, we and our allies will confront the Department of Justice directly to ask ina criminal investigation of forced labor in the 21st century.”
The Indian Workers’ Congress is an affiliate of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.
Follow the hunger strike on our text and photo blog: www.neworleansworkerjustice.org.
STATEMENT BY PAUL KONAR
Before his hospitalization on June 5, 2008, Day 23 of the Indian Workers’ Congress hunger strike for justice
Our nation’s father, Mahatma Gandhi, did a hunger strike for millions of people. We came here to live like human beings, but become victim of human trafficking. I held this hunger strike for the last 23 days not only for the 550 Indians who where trafficked to United States. It was for all people who came and are still coming to this country and living in conditions that amount to modern day slavery.
Somebody needed to do something for others, so we, the Indian Worker Congress started this fight for justice. I took this risk of holding a hunger strike to achieve justice in this country for all people.
Day by day my confidence is growing because I have been doing good for others. What I did is nothing compared to the sacrifice of Mahatma Gandhi, but I did what I can. If it should bring some happiness to others in the world, that is enough for me.
Today, after 23 days without food, I am in a very weak physical condition, and my friends and supporters are very concerned about my health. The others who started the hunger strike with me on May 14 were forced to leave after 8 or 9 days due to health problems. I thank God that he preserved me for the last 23 days.
In this land of liberty, please don’t send any one back without justice. Don’t let their tears fall in this beautiful land. Please support the poor. Give them liberty and justice. This is my prayer to everyone in this country.
Thank you to all who are supporting this campaign.