The struggle is still on: Life after Marutis Manesar factory clash – Business Standard

Anjali Puri

Business Standard is republishing this 2015 article as a court in Gurgaon in Haryana on 10 March, 2017 convicted 31 workers for the violence at the Maurti Suzuki factory in Manesar in 2012 in which a manager died of asphyxiation.

During a week in late September, when almost every newspaper splashed on its front pages the news that Maruti Suzuki had raised the salaries of its permanent workers by Rs 16,800 a month, Narender, 31, a trained machinist who worked for five years at the car manufacturer’s Manesar plant in Haryana, was refused a Rs 9,000 a month personal chauffeur’s job.

Read more: 2012 Maruti factory violence: Meet Sonu Gujjar, the man behind the strike

“I applied for 15 jobs,” he says, “after I came out of jail in May this year, with no luck. Finally, I steeled myself to take up this driver’s job — and then I failed the police verification.” This week, Narender, married with a child, still had no job. He works as a daily wage driver for taxi companies when he gets a call.

Read more: 31 convicted, 117 acquitted in Maruti's 2012 violence case

At their small Gurgaon home, a world away from the district’s glass-and-steel office blocks, his father, Daya Ram, a Class X pass security guard in a shabby safari suit, produces, unasked, his son’s Industrial Training Institute (ITI) diploma and testimonials.

“He got a joining letter from the company when it restarted after the trouble in July 2012,” he says, pulling out yet more papers from bulging files. “Look,” he says, tracing with his finger the printed sentences on a company letter, “he was asked to rejoin duty on August 27, 2012. And then, when they learnt he was in jail, they withdrew the call. Tell me, would they have wanted him back, in the first place, if he hadn’t had a clean record?”

This faceless former worker for India’s largest car-maker is part of a case etched in public memory, not least because it involved the death of a general manager, amid arson and violence. Narender was one of the 150 workers jailed after this episode of industrial strife on July 18, 2012, at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant.

Like all the others, he was charged under as many as 18 sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder. Another 60-odd workers were named as absconders and nearly 2,500 were dismissed amid an avalanche of negative media publicity for the workers.

Those picked up by the police — from their parents’ homes, from shared rented rooms in worker’s tenements, from the streets — soon disappeared into Bhondsi Jail, leaving behind shell-shocked families. As 2012 turned into 2013, and then 2014, they remained in jail, their bail applications rejected.

Famously, a Punjab and Haryana High Court judge cited foreign investors while turning down a plea for bail in May 2013. “The incident is most unfortunate occurrence which has lowered the reputation of India in the estimation of the world. Foreign investors are not likely to invest the money in India out of fear of labour unrest,” the judge observed.

Rahul Roy’s 2015 film, The Factory, is a graphic, moving, worker-centric telling of the Maruti-Manesar story. Roy juxtaposes different accounts of the July 18, 2012 violence to paint a far more complex, contested and grey picture of the episode than the one drawn by the police and prosecution.

However, the dramatic centre of The Factory is not those events, but an agonising wait for bail. As the trek from sessions court to high court to Supreme Court proves fruitless, the screen explodes with the tears and rage of families brought to their knees. “Shall we eat mud to fill our stomachs?” a woman screams at the camera. The young men themselves are shadowy figures behind wire-mesh.

But no longer. Of the 150, 114 managed to secure bail this year, after two-and-a-half to nearly three years in prison, and they are now out in the world, engaged in a desperate, unnoticed search for employment. Defence counsel Vrinda Grover says they are targets of indiscriminate arrest by a state machinery strikingly eager to help a significant business player.

“Not one of them was identified in court,” she stresses, “by a single witness.” Even workers, she says, who by prosecution’s own version, only damaged property, stand charged with murder. “If more than 200 people had a common intent to murder, as claimed, would they,” she asks, “have stopped at one man?”

Tin shack where provisional committee of Manesar plant's sacked workers meet
Tin shack where provisional committee of Manesar plant’s sacked workers meet
An earlier picture of a worker soon after being granted bail
An earlier picture of a worker soon after being granted bail
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First Published: Fri, March 10 2017. 13:24 IST
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