The Sessions Court in Gurgaon today announced the quantum of sentence for 31 workers convicted by it on 10th March in the State of Haryana Vs. Jiyalal and Others case. Thirteen union leaders have been awarded life imprisonment, four others five years imprisonment and remaining 14 sentence as already undergone. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights strongly condemns not just the severity of punishment, but the conviction itself. The case was filed in connection with the incident of violence, setting the office on fire and unfortunate death of one HR manager due to asphyxiation at the Manesar unit of Maruti on 18th July 2012.
It should be recalled that the workers of the Maruti plant in Manesar had to struggle hard for the Constitutional right of forming a union. Ever since its formation in 2012, Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (Reg. no. 1923) had been engaged in negotiations with the company management on various demands of the workers, including that of contract workers. On 18th July 2012 after an altercation between a supervisor and a worker, the worker was suspended. This happened when a meeting of the union members and the management regarding some pending issues was on. Hearing about the illegality of suspension of the worker, the union demanded its revocation. The company had deployed many bouncers in the premises that day and the police was also called in while the negotiations were on. Due to the flip flop of the management on revoking the suspension and anti-worker attitude of the labour department officials present there, tension built up. In the melee that followed, some of the management personnel were injured (none seriously) and a number of workers were also injured. A fire broke out leading to tragic death of one HR manager due to asphyxiation.
From day one after the incident, the investigation was marred by high handedness of the police acting in collusion with the management. The police arbitrarily indicted and arrested 148 workers on the basis of the list provided by the management even before their being named by the prosecution witnesses, especially targeting the office bearers and other active members of their union. It ignored the discrepancies in the management’s account, the facts such as presence of bouncers at the plant and the workers getting injured that day. What followed was a blatantly illegal police action involving violation of statutory norms regarding arrests and detention, third degree torture of the arrested workers and harassment of the family members and repeated attacks on the other workers protesting the arrests, etc. The over enthusiastic behavior made it very clear that they were acting on behalf of the management.
Most importantly, there was a presumption that the workers were responsible for the violence and therefore no investigation was done on the possibility of the company executives, managerial staff and the bouncers as perpetrators of violence.
In the course of the trial, while 139 accused managed to get bail from the High Court after spending 3-4 years in jail, nine remained behind bar throughout. The fact that 117 of these have been acquitted shows that they were made to suffer incarceration for long durations without any basis. Close examination of the trial raises serious doubts about the conviction of the rest of the 31 accused. Thirteen of these accused have been charged with murder, all of whom are office bearers and the active members of the union.
The conviction is a result of a trial full of infirmities. These include naming of the accused by the prosecution witnesses in alphabetical order, inability of the witnesses to identify the accused correctly and to specify their exact role in the violence, weapons of attack changing from lathi, iron rod and birja to car door beams and shocker rods from FIR to trial stage, staged recovery of weapons from the accused houses days after the incident, inability of the prosecution to prove who lit the fire and how, absence of any corroborated evidence, absence of any evidence of any fatal attack on the deceased or any other managerial staff member etc. In nut shell no evidence was established in the court of law linking any of these workers to either murder or igniting fire, damage of property.
In the light of absolute gaps in establishing any evidence in court, we believe that this conviction is absolutely partisan, based on unfair trial and is a result of a nexus between the state institutions – the police, the administration, the judiciary in collusion with the Maruti management. All of them together are guilty of violating the rights of the workers and for the injustice they have suffered and are suffering. It is a stark example of the coming together of the state and capitalist classes. A previous High Court judgment denying bail for Maruti workers said that giving bail to workers would set a bad precedent for FDI in the country.
The judgment is clearly aimed at giving a strong message to the workers in the entire belt that they can’t fight for their constitutional rights. The constant threat of ‘Maruti like situation’, the tactics of threat and intimidation, regular enforcement of Section 144, criminalization of workers are an everyday reality of workers in the entire industrial belt from Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera and Bawal. For the working class in India the judgment is a signal that Justice bends in favour of the Capitalist class and heralds acceleration in erosion of their rights and expansion of the power of management over them.
PUDR reiterates that it stands in solidarity with the Maruti workers in their struggle for justice. Meanwhile the least that the Haryana Government can do is to appropriately compensate the 117 workers for their illegal incarceration, loss of precious years of their lives and loss of livelihood.
Cijo Joy & Anushka Singh