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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 27 , July 1, 2023

Will the Government Heed This Book That Makes A Strong Case for Justice to Victimized Maruti Workers | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 1 July 2023, by Bharat Dogra


Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar have just written a book that simply has to be read by anyone interested in the welfare of industrial workers in India. This is also a must reading for all Japanese people involved with human rights to get a glimpse of the havoc their companies cause in the lives of innocent workers and poor people in developing countries.

The reference here is to a book on victimized Maruti Suzuki workers titled ‘Japanese Management, Indian Resistance—The Struggles of Maruti Suzuki Workers’ and its Hindi version titled ‘Factory Japani, Pratirodh Hindustani—Maruti Suzuki Mazdooron Kaa Anant Sangharsh’. The main reference point here is the violence that erupted in the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, Haryana, on July 18, 2012 in which one manager died. This manager happened to be the one who was relatively friendly to workers and supported their demand for a union. Workers also respected him and are most unlikely to have attacked him. On the day of violence, as this book and several preceding media reports had pointed out, several bouncers entered the factory, having been provided uniforms without nametags so that it became difficult to distinguish them from workers. Many workers have stated that these bouncers’ role (and of those who brought them in) should be examined carefully if the real facts of the violence are to be found. There are several indications that almost all the victimized workers accused of violence were actually, by and large, innocent. Despite this several of them, and particularly union activists, were tortured mercilessly and the details of torture inflicted on them reminds one of the torture one sees in films on fascist regimes. Yet this happened under the Congress regime of Haryana under the same CM who is still the main Congress leader in Haryana. When traumatized family members rushed to appeal to other Congress leaders in Haryana and nearby Delhi, some faced refusal to meet representatives of ‘violent’ workers, others were even lathi-charged.

As many as 546 workers were dismissed from their jobs in circumstances that made it very difficult for these trained workers with industrial skills to get work in any other factory. As many as about 150 workers were imprisoned. Nearly 117 were found innocent and released but only in 2017 after they had spent about 5 years of their youth in prison. Meanwhile their families faced economic ruin due to the loss of their income, the expenditure in fighting the case and running around in search of help. These workers still carry the tag of jailed workers who cannot find employment in other industries. About 33 workers were convicted. 13 were given life imprisonment although they could come out on bail in 2022.

Many of these victimized workers are still fighting legal cases in various courts including labor courts. They have to attend court hearings and arrange fees for lawyers. These may drag on for several years and even if justice comes it may come too late. They have already suffered a lot. Can something be done to bring some relief to them immediately?

One has to speak of relief rather than justice at a practical level because there is so little hope of ensuring punishment to those who are guilty of victimizing and even torturing workers. Under the prevailing conditions, there is very little chance of this. So we have to consider the other possibility of quickly arranging some badly needed relief to workers.

This can be in the form of a reconciliation package arranged together by the government and the management under which generous rehabilitation amounts are provided to families of all the over 500 victimized workers, all charges against all workers are withdrawn, those still desiring work in Maruti Suzuki and qualified for it are reinstated to the extent possible and others are given certificates of clean record so that they can get other jobs.

Since such a rehabilitation package will not involve an investigation of the highly suspicious role of the management, the management may just agree to this, particularly if a strong effort is made for this by human rights and trade union movements of India as well as Japan.

Even the BJP ruled governments in Haryana and the center, despite their high corporate bias, may agree to this because ahead of Haryana elections, this may provide them a good chance to project themselves as sympathizers of workers who provided relief to workers victimized and tortured by the previous Congress regime.

Meanwhile, various trade unions and human rights organizations should consistently and repeatedly raise the demand for justice to badly victimized Maruti Suzuki workers. The months before elections in Haryana may just be the right time to achieve some relief for these workers.

By taking up and campaigning for the cause of these workers, the Congress may still be able to atone for its previous grave injustice to them and still emerge belatedly in a helpful role.

Coming back to the books in English and Hindi by Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar, although mostly these tell the very sad story of the extreme injustice to workers, there are also a few episodes which keep alive our hope in humanity. When the sister of a jailed worker was to be married and there were no savings with the family to arrange the expenses, 1100 workers went to the marriage, having mobilized 11 lakh rupees, and saw to it that the marriage ceremony of ‘their’ sister was performed with due grace and even grandeur. They themselves did not eat there, but saw to it that all guests were served well.

When the entirely innocent husband of Sushma Devi was victimized in the Maruti episode and jailed, she was hospitalized. But she took up a job and attended all court proceedings, not missing a single court date, while also visiting her husband regularly in jail, at the same time running around to meet leaders for justice. In the middle of all this, she also went to her village in Himachal Pradesh and in view of her dedication to helping people she was elected as the village sarpanch ( headperson). As she had seen the Maruti victimization and injustice very closely, she says, “I will never let anything like this happen in my village. I will always listen impartially to both sides and then do justice.”

Can the top managers of Maruti Suzuki learn from her? If they do, they will be able to sleep better.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine (Gandhian Legacy), Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071)

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