Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant workers protest
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 31, Dated 04 Aug 2012: NEARLY 1,200 policemen and an oppressive heat hung over the burnt remains of Maruti’s Manesar factory in Haryana, the day after. On 19 July 2012, one day since a workers’ mob attacked senior managers with iron rods and set offices on fire, the place felt and looked like a giant funeral pyre. But even the burnt walls and shattered glass could not convey the horror on the faces of the staff that emerged from the gates. Or the extreme shock of Awanish Dev’s family, the HR manager who was charred to death. Burnt beyond recognition. Ninety-eight managers and staff from Maruti spent the next few days in hospital — 23 are still there, legs in casts, their families stare in bewilderment at the only possible question — who would have thought? Inside the Bhondsi jail, 75 km from the Manesar plant, 22 year-old Pritesh Singh, had exactly the same question for his prospective lawyer — who would have thought? TEHELKA spoke to the jailed workers from Maruti charged with homicide. Pritesh claims that like him, most of those arrested were not part of the mob at all. They were picked up from the shanties after their shift was over, because the police arrested whoever they could find from Maruti. Pritesh was on the ‘A’ shift on the morning of the 18th. He’d been working at Maruti for two years and the job meant everything to him. It was a means for him to send money home to his village in UP’s Azamgarh district, to treat his sick parents. On that fateful Wednesday, Pritesh was trying to leave when he found at 4pm that the workers’ union had blocked the gates. Pritesh had been oblivious to the growing tension in the factory since 10 am. Apparently, a supervisor on one of the shop floors had made a casteist remark about a worker called Jiya Lal. After which, Jiya Lal slapped him. The supervisor was told to go home but Jiya Lal was suspended. By noon, the workers union protested and asked the top management to revoke the suspension. By the time Pritesh’s shift was over, things were slowly coming to a head. At 6 or 6.30, he managed to sneak out into the crowd and get back to where he stayed — a village called Aliar. “I thought that since I hadn’t been part of the mob, nothing will happen to me. But the villagers in Aliar started blackmailing me and the other boys, saying they’d turn us Maruti workers in to the police. We fled and the police caught up with us. They didn’t even ask me what I’d done. No one asked me anything.” Pritesh’s colleague and jail-mate Anupam Dubey also went to his supervisor when the shift changed. “I want to leave but I’m not being allowed to, so tell me what to do.” His supervisor advised him to work overtime, which is what he was doing until he heard an announcement from the workers’ union asking everyone to come to the gate. He was eventually betrayed by his taxi and sent to the police. “Can we get a personal lawyer?” “Will you ask our supervisors at Maruti to tell you what they know about us?” “Won’t the CCTV footage prove our innocence?” “Will we get out of jail?” For now, these voices, recorded by their prospective lawyer, Rajendra Pathak, are drowned out by the overwhelming situation the workers are in. A large number of them are perpetrators. The police claim to have caught six of them this week. They’re in police custody. Twelve others, all unionists, have non-bail able warrants issued against them. But there is another side to this story that needs looking at. A senior Maruti executive who didn’t want to be named stitched together many eyewitness accounts. The grisly story of how a hundred managers at Maruti were beaten with iron rods till their legs fractured so they couldn’t run. And then the mob went after their skulls. It all began with the Jiya Lal incident at 10am. When the union didn’t budge on their demands, senior management assured the union leaders that Jiya Lal’s suspension would be temporary,...
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