Mainstream, VOL LIII No 26, New Delhi June 20, 2015
Extreme Distress of Maruti Workers and their Family Members
Saturday 20 June 2015, by
Following certain tragic incidents at the Manesar (Haryana) plant of Maruti Suzuki on July 18, 2012—which led to the death of a human resources manager—as many as 147 workers of this plant were arrested in a highly arbitrary way, in most cases with hardly any evidence of their involvement in the tragic incident.
Since then several reports have drawn attention to the extreme anti-worker bias of the Haryana Government, then ruled by the Congress, in the cruel victimisation of workers. Investigations by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights found, among other things, that “a State Government determined to curb the workers’ struggles for basic rights of organising and forming a union has foisted criminal cases and prolonged the ordeal”.1
Subsequently specific cases of how false evidence was cooked up and used against workers were also reported. For example, Usha Ramanathan, a researcher on legal issues, has written: “Prosecution witnesses (PWs) allegedly named the accused sharing them among themselves alphabetically—PW 40 listed out accused whose names started from G to P, PW 41 named those starting from P, R and S.” This review also points out that the State Government was willing to give very high lawyer fees (over one million rupees per hearing) just to keep the workers in jail and deny them bail.2
Some prosecution witnesses were not able to identify those named by them as the accused in their statements.
Keeping in view the very weak evidence presented against most of the workers, it was widely believed that they will be granted bail very soon. But one of the most distressing aspects of this case has been the very long delay in granting bail. As Ramanathan points out, “149 Maruti workers spent two-and-a-half years in jail without bail. It took a struggle through the hierarchy of courts for some of the workers to finally be given bail.“2
The first two bails to Sunil and Kanwaljeet were granted as late as February 23, 2015. This bail was granted by the Supreme Court in response to an appeal filed on their behalf after the Punjab and Haryana High Court had rejected their bail petitions. The Supreme Court order paved the way for other bail orders. On March 18, bail was granted to 79 more workers. It was argued on their behalf that they were being kept in jail despite the fact that no witness had named them.3
At the time of writing this, several workers are still languishing in jail. Those who have been able to obtain bail are also facing a lot of difficulties as during the time they spent in jail without any earnings, their families have become heavily indebted.4
It was pointed out earlier (before they started getting bail) that many of these workers are ill and their families are being denied even the essentials of life. Some of the elderly family members suffered from acute mental agony while many having no earnings have to incur debts to travel long distances to meet the imprisoned workers.5
Published interviews with released workers and their family members reveal an extremely tragic story of workers losing their family members while in jail, their families incurring one loan after another to survive and to arrange some legal help for them, young mothers with small children suddenly rendered shelterless following arbitrary arrests of their husbands, elderly parents running from pillar to post to somehow arrange bail but not succeeding for over two years. Another painful fact that emerges is that most of the workers are from families of small farmers and other weaker sections, but when their fathers or other family members went to request the lawyers for getting bail, they were asked to pay lakhs of rupees in fees. Also it is important that most of the workers and their family members are very bitter about their experiences with the media, as they feel that the media did not present the reality in their case. These talented, trained and skilled workers feel that the entire system acted in a very unjust way to take away their youth and to kill their hopes and aspirations. They are unable to get any new jobs and face very grim prospects.4 As their defence lawyer rightly asks, who will give back what the innocent young men lost in these three years?6
It has been reported that the Congress is trying to get back the confidence of weaker sections. Will it show its sincerity by questioning its former Chief Minister regarding the most cruel and unjust conduct towards workers and paying millions of rupees just to prevent workers getting bail?
Also the question of setting up a support group of lawyers, human rights activists, trade union leaders and philanthropists to help the victimised workers of Maruti should be sincerely explored.
1. ‘Release All Maruti Workers’ by Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl, Economic and Political Weekly, March 7, 2015.
2. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Usha Ramanathan, Seminar, May 2015.
3. ‘79 Shramiko Ko Mili Niymit Jamanat’, Hindustan, March 18, 2015.
4. ‘Maruti ke Maare Vayavastha Se Haare’, Report by Vikas Kumar in Tehelka (Hindi), June 15, 2015.
5. ‘Ensure Justice For 148 Jailed Maruti Workers’ by Bharat Dogra, Mainstream, August 1-7, 2014.
6. Interview with defence lawyer Vrinda Grover, Tehelka (Hindi), June 15, 2015.
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.