4 years since Manesar violence: Maruti thrives, but workers still suffer
- It has been 4 years since the violence at the Maruti plant in Manesar
- The company has moved on but the workers still suffer
- Over 150 workers were jailed. 116 got bail last year, 35 are still in prison
- 2,346 workers were retrenched. 426 of these weren\'t even investigated
- Sordid plight of workers\' families
- How the hope for justice is fading
Five-year-old Parneet Kaur never had a chance to play in her father's lap. Every day, Parneet watches parents leaving her classmates at school, taking them to festivals and reciting stories. While her peers lead a normal childhood, Parneet spends most of her time waiting for her father.
Parneet's wait has now stretched for four years. Her father Sarabjit is languishing in Gurugram jail. Gurgaon has changed to Gurugram during this period, the power both at the state and the centre has changed hands. Yet, Parneet's wait continues.
The plight of Sarabjit's father Avtar Singh is no less tragic. Sarabjit was the only hope for the twilight years of this retired post office employee and his wife. Sarabjit's wife, sister and daughter have spent the last four years moving pillar to post for Sarabjit's bail.
Sarabjit was a permanent worker at Maruti's Manesar plant. On 18 July, 2012, the plant was hit by a major labour unrest that resulted in the death of its HR Manager Avnish Kumar Dev. The company management blamed workers for the death and charged several of its employees with arson, violence and murder. The police believed in the management's version of the story and launched a vicious crackdown against labourers.
Scores of Maruti employees were rounded up. Several of them faced brutalities at the hands of the police. Over 150 labourers were put behind bars. Sarabjit was one of them. Non-bailable warrants against 65 other workers are still pending. 546 permanent workers and 1800 contractual labourers were retrenched without any investigation. Out of these, 426 were not even under the purview of the SIT investigation.
116 workers languishing in jail were lucky enough to get bail last year. However, 35 still continue to remain incarcerated as accused. The families of these 150 workers faced death, diseases, birth of children who were forced to grow up as orphans. Yet, not even a glimmer of hope for bail touched their lives, let alone the final verdict.
The harshness, inhumanity and misfortune of their legal battle can be gauged from the fact that it took a long time for the first court hearing of these labourers in Gurgaon court. Ironically, the matter came up before the court for the first time on 1 May, the International Labour Day. A famous Supreme Court lawyer present himself before the court to plead Maruti's case. Several workers had to approach High Court and the apex court for bail. Only one of the 35 jailed workers was granted bail by the Supreme Court. Rest of the 34 are still awaiting their turn to breathe the free air.
Avtar Singh met his son in jail on Monday. "Sarabjit is a victim of injustice and discrimination. The only hope for justice is keeping him alive in jail. He inspires us to keep our sagging faith in judicial system intact. He is confident that justice can be delayed, but not denied," says Avtar, barely able to control his tears.
Avtar Singh belongs to Kurukshetra. After meeting his son in Gurugram jail, he went straight to the District Collector's office where around 1,000 Maruti workers were sitting on a dharna to mark the fourth anniversary of the injustice meted out to their colleagues. The workers of the four Maruti plants and their trade union leaders were part of the protest.
In a memorandum handed over to the DC, these workers have demanded the immediate release of the jailed workers and revocation of false cases against them. They are also demanding reinstatement of all the suspended employees and initiation of a tripartite negotiation to resolve the matter. The protestors have also reiterated the demand of an independent judicial inquiry into the incident of 18 July 2012.
"The circumstances surrounding the death of HR Manager were unfortunate as well as suspicious. The Maruti workers shared cordial relations with the management. They had no reason to indulge in such a criminal act. We were opposing the inhumane working conditions and the management retaliated by the use of police force and slapping of false cases. It is a blatant breach of labour laws, murder of democracy and sheer injustice," says one of the workers.
Another protestor shares the same sentiment. "The death of the manager was unfortunate. But is it fair to play with the lives of 3,000 families for one death? How can one justify incarcerating people in jail for four years without bail and leaving their families to die? Have the governments gone completely blind and heartless? The criminals are making movies in this country,sitting in the Parliament or doing business while poor and the labourers are languishing in jails," he says.
It is these workers who have bore the brunt of the violence at the Maruti plant. They were the victims earlier and they remain victims even today. The governments, media and the administration have no interest in looking at their plight. There are several like Sarabjit who are stifling in jails in the hope of justice while their families are struggling to make their ends meet.
Lakhs of Maruti cars have hit the roads during these years, Maruti ads regularly appear in newspapers and on TV and even a film called Mere Dad Ki Maruti was released. Some say it was Bollywood's way of repairing the Maruti brand after the incident.
What is missing, is the story of the workers' suffering. And justice seems to have lost its way.
Translated by Deepak Sharma. Edited by Aditya Menon.