Interview with Gunabalan : One of the Pricol 8

pricol8(Interview conducted by Prathamesh, transcribed by Meghna Sukumar)

Gunabalan is among the eight Pricol workers who were sentenced to a double life sentence.   He was released on bail on March 26th 2016 after spending 110 days in jail. The other 7 are still in jail. The workers were sentenced on the charge of clubbing to death Roy George, the vice president (HR) of the company on September 21, 2009. Of the 27 accused in the case, 19 were acquitted at the same time that the other 8 were sentenced to double life sentences. There are lots of discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.  The following is an interview with Gunabalan.

Interviewer: Can you start by telling us about your background?

Gunabalan: I am Gunabalan.I am 48 years old. My native place is Dindigul. I have joined Pricol in 1989. I have experience of nearly 20 years in Pricol.

I am also a technical degree holder, I have completed 10th standard and have ITI certificate. Before joining Pricol I had completed my apprenticeship in Coimbatore and in addition had two years work experience. I was confirmed in Pricol by the management in 1992.

I joined Pricol first in the oil pump division. I was working in the Quality Control Department. I have participated in all programs implemented by the Pricol management, like TPM, TQM, Quality Circles, Suggestion scheme, Quality First and have received management’s rewards and awards. At the national level I participated in Quality Circles programmes and I was the leader of the General Quality Circle team.

With everybody’s cooperation we introduced the suggestion scheme in the assembly line. We worked as a team for improvement of production and quality. Through the suggestion scheme, we improved the production and I have received awards and rewards independently for my participation. Every time, whenever there is Quality fest in Pricol or when there is essay writing during Ayudha poojai festival, cartoon work, I have participated and won prizes.I have all the certificated and have all the records.

Till the end I worked as a good employee in Pricol. Many people know this and management also knows this. This is how I was working in Pricol.

Regarding my family background, I am the only earning member. I go to work and am able to take care of my family with my salary. My mother lives alone in Dindigul. I am taking care of all her needs including her medical expenses. My wife does tailoring at home. So we are able to get some small income from that. My daughter is doing her third year in zoology. My son is in the 11th standard. This is my family situation.

With my present earnings, I do not make enough to run a normal middle class family, But despite this, we are managing with whatever we get. The education expenses for a 11th standard boy including donation and buying books comes up to Rs.30000 to Rs.40000. And for college, it is even higher. To manage this, we are pushed to work harder. Otherwise we need to work for extra income part time, only then we can manage. This is the situation we are in.

In this situation, when I was terminated from my job, I was able to work as a helper with electricians and plumbers because I had completed my ITI and like that I was able to support my family. I was pushed to a situation where I had to take care of my family with that limited income.

After I was convicted, my family was really affected. In this situation, unions and union members really helped my family. Whatever little help they could afford, they did. When we were in jail they helped us legally and they have gotten me out on bail.

Till now we have conducted only lawful protests. Hunger strikes, issuing pamphlets to directly tell the general public what problems we are facing. Whenever we need to raise funds to conduct a protest or to give a petition, we have always collected money and issued a receipt. We have conducted all our protests with the support of the general public.

Even in jail, we conducted ourselves in a disciplined way. We followed all the rules. In the morning, as soon as the open the lock-up we would sign in the registry. We were making napkins for the government in jail. It is a useful product for people. We manufactured that product sincerely and followed all rules and regulations. We followed all the rules. We did not miss any day of work, we went to work every day until the day we got bail.

Interviewer: How were the conditions is jail?

Gunabalan: In the morning, they will open the lock up at 6.30. Then we bathe and wash our clothes and by 9.30 we should be in the factory. They will allot work as per our experience and qualifications. There are 9 departments inside – napkin, carpentry section, welding workshop, book binding, tailoring, handloom and weaving.

I was in the napkin section. Since I have worked in a company and am technically qualified, I got the opportunity to make this product. The napkins are used by the women to control menstrual bleeding. It is a sensitive product. Only if people with social responsibility make this product it will be good. So we have worked sincerely to make it. We have always been able to meet the production targets that were given to us.

Interviewer: How were your experiences with your comrades in jail?

Gunabalan: See all our protests have been conducted lawfully, we have raised money from the general public and conducted protests. Through a hunger strike, we showed our dissent against the management and the government. Similarly through an arpattam, we submitted our demands through a petition to the collector and the Labour Minister. This is how we faced our issues.

Interviewer : Do you have any message?

Gunabalan : Every human being has a social responsibility. We have certain responsibilities for our next generation.

One-thirds of our life, up till we are 25 years old, is spent in education. The next 25 years are spent for our family and children. So we are fifty by then. But the retirement age is 58, so one could work till then. During that time, what can you do for the next generation? After 50, we must fulfill our social responsibility by bringing about some legal benefits for the next generation. Instead of retiring at 58 and sitting at home, we must voluntarily retire at 50 and do service.

There are several examples. Why has the concept of 8 hour work day stopped? We are the reason. For a company, 8 hour work day is a legal requirement. And after that, we work for the next 4 hours as over time because we want to earn more money. When we take this option, we are actually doing a job that another person can be employed to do.

So the situation has changed in the last ten years. And now the minimum work day is 12 hours. We have pushed the next generation into a situation where they will have to work from 8 in the morning to 8 at night. We are completely responsible for this.We have sacrificed this concept of 8 hour work, 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for liesure. This is a very wrong thing.

We must decide our retirement age and anyone employee, be it a government or private sector, must work towards social change and for progress after 50 years. This is my request. I am now 48 years old. And I want to say that henceforth I will struggle for progress of society and for future generations.

Interviewer : What are your thoughts about the current situation of labour repression throughout the country?

Gunabalan: Almost 150-200 Pricol workers have been kept in for enquiry as under trials. In the Special Economic Zones are examples of situations where workers are being treated like slaves. The capital class and the government have created an oppressive atmosphere to prevent workers from coming together.

If a crime has been committed, without doing a proper investigation to find out what exactly happened to report that it is completely the fault of the workers must be denounced. This is for all workers

Today when Maruti workers are being oppressed, it is the same situation for workers in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India. I demand that these actions must be stopped by the government and managements.

In that situation, there is no organisation to support the workers and even economically they are in a dire situation. There has not been enough monetary support for the workers’ families.

If industrial harmony has to prevail, the government has to find a middle ground between the management and workers. If they can act in a way that does not affect the workers and the management, then these sorts of problems will not occur.

I demand that the others be released. There must be a proper investigation and the true culprits must be found and punished. We believe that the government will do this. This is my request. I believe that this will definitely happen.

I got bail on the 10th. On 23rd, I was released. There are 7 others in jail. Those comrades are courageous and confident. They believe that they will get bail. We will never lose hope. The union and the workers are making all efforts to secure their release. The government too should push for an immediate bail order immediately and I believe that this will happen.

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