147 jailed workers including 11 workers denied bail for last 5 years await the verdict on March 10th
5 years ago on 18th July 2012, 213 workers of the Maruti-Suzuki Manesar plant in Gurgaon were falsely implicated for the death of a HR manager who was asphyxiated during a fire that broke out in the factory. On 18 July 2012 a general manager of the company Awanish Kumar Dev died in the conflict that erupted after a Dalit worker Jiyalal was suspended from duty unilaterally when a supervisor attacked him and gave casteist abuse. In an act of vengeance, the management removed 2300 workers without following any legal process. Out of these 2300 workers, 546 were regular and remaining were on contract. 147 workers were sent to Jail out of whom 11 are still languishing behind the bars, including the entire union body and Jiyalal.
Maruti Union had formed in early 2012 after a protracted and heroic struggle of the Maruti workers which lasted for a year . It included three consecutive strikes, two of which were when workers occupied the factory. This struggle became well known for a strong show of unity between permanent , contract and trainee workers, as well as a strong and sustained show of solidarity from workers of the other plants in this industrial belt.
After nearly 5 years, the criminal (in)justice system is inching towards a final verdict in the Maruti workers case (‘State of Haryana vs Jiyalal & Others’) through a maze of evidence-less lies and clear pro-corporate anti-worker intent. The date for the Judgment from the Trial Court, the Sessions Court Gurgaon, has been set for 10th March 2017. The hand-shaking between various apparatuses of the State – the Police, administration, Judiciary – and the Company, couldn’t be more clear as in this case. Workers are apprehensive about a Pricol-type ‘life sentences’ and long-term convictions against hundreds of workers. 66 more workers other than the 147 have similar charges under various non-bailable sections.
The legal arguments in the Maruti Suzuki workers Trial case concluded on 18 February, 2017. The Prosecution has already completed its arguments while the final arguments from the Defense from the workers was done by Advocates Vrinda Grover, Rebecca John and RS Cheema in January and February 2017.
It was established during the final arguments that there is no direct evidence linking ‘murder’ or ‘setting fire’ to the factory on any worker. No prosecution witness could establish any worker involvement in the same, and neither was any CCTV footage and so on produced. The management person Deepak Anand from GM Vigilance who filed the FIR against the Maruti workers, could not even identify a worker! The FIR mentions that 400–500 workers with rods, batons and sticks in hand entered the HR and beat the management but all the witness uniformly said that workers were carrying shockers and door beams, and that all of them uniformly stopped the attacks with their left hand. In the MLC done on management injuries show absurdities as a dental root canal as injury.
It has already been established how 89 of the 147 workers have been arrested on the basis of names given alphabetically by 4 contractors, none of whom were identified in the Court. The lists of workers arrested thus was provided by the Company to the Police, and not on the basis of its own investigation, pointing to an active collusion between the two. The witness Salil Vihari called the accused Jiyalal and closely inspected him but still could not identify him. There was moreover no evidence as to setting fire and no witness could explain how the fire was lit and who did it.
But as in one of the High Court orders in May 2013 rejecting bail pointed to safeguarding the interests of ‘foreign investment against growing labour unrest’, the considerations of the Judiciary are suspect. The State has already spent crores of public money all these years against the workers, and if that was not enough, the Company lawyer, Vikas Pahwa – and not the Public Prosecutor – again kept the ‘last word’ on their behalf in the Sessions Court Gurgaon during the final arguments.
Without doubt today after four years the matter is clarified, but it still means that for those who have spent those four years in jail, who have lost their family members in that course of time or not been able to see their children grow up for those years or have not been able to part of the joys and sorrows of their family for that time, will there be justice for those who are not guilty. Is this justice? But for now only the facts are being stated, the character of this institution is a question still left open.
As the then chairman R.C. Bhargva described the incident of 18th July, 2012 as a consequence of “class war” . Thus the jailed Maruti workers are political prisoners of the class war. The struggle has become a symbol of contemporary class struggles all across the country. Among workers nation-wide, this struggle is known for it’s show of unity between workers of different strata and a successful formation of union in the face of intense repression .
On the other hand the managements across the country holds the imprisonment of the workers as an example of the fate that awaits workers who try to unionize permanent and contract workers together. Thus it is imperative that all over India, workers come together and stand in solidarity with the jailed Maruti workers and show the state that the judgement will not go unheard .