The Gurgaon District and Sessions Court handed down sentences of life imprisonment to 13 Maruti-Suzuki workers on 18 March 2017 convicting them on charges of criminal conspiracy, murder and destruction of evidence for the 18 July 2012 incident at the company’s Manesar plant in which a manager lost his life. The court also served commuted prison sentences of five years each to 4 workers and of three years to 14 workers variously convicted for trespass, unlawful assembly, mischief and rioting and possession of deadly weapons.117 workers who were kept under arrest for at least 31 months and more have been acquitted of all charges.
Ofthe 13 convicted of murder, 12 – Ram Meher, Sarabjeet Singh, Sarvjit Dhillon, Ram Vilas, Pawan Kumar, Sohan Lal, Ajmer Singh, Sukh Kumar, Amaijeet, Yogesh, Pradeep Gujjar and Dhanraj Bambi – were the office bearers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, who were in place on the day of the incident. The thirteenth, Jiya Lal, was the worker who was the subject of the disciplinary action on the day of the incident, when he protested against casteist abuse by a supervisor against him for being a dalit.
The Maruti-Suzuki Manesar plant workers – both permanent and contract – had sought to form a union of their choice in 2011. The Maruti- Suzuki management with active support of the Government of Haryana first denied them union registration. Following months of sustained militant struggle, frequently put down by the police acting admittedly at Maruti- Suzuki management’s behest, government finally acceded to union registration in early 2012 but, the Maruti-Suzuki management refused to recognise the union and negotiate with them in good faith. The escalation of the incidents on 18 July 2012 was employed by Maruti-Suzuki management to rid themselves of the union, its leadership and 2,300+ workers who were summarily dismissed.
The criminal conspiracy apparently occurred despite the fact that the judgment acknowledges that the investigation was weak insofar as: there was a change of the assault weapons (from lathis and rods to car parts) in the course of the investigation, lack of forensic examination of the assault weapons, failure to hold an identification parade of the accused and false medico-legal reports and delays in recording witness statements. The charge of criminal conspiracy including of murder and destruction of evidence is based entirely on the testimony of prosecution witnesses, entirely negating the testimony of the defence witnesses, including references to the sustained attack by the Maruti-Suzuki management on the workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. By negating the testimony of all defence witnesses the court also completely denied the presence of external bouncers, who brought in the lathis and rods that caused the violence. The prosecution witnesses, apart from two policemen and one labour department officer, are all managers or labour contractors of the company. It is noteworthy that the prosecution could not find a single worker as witness from a workforce of2,700+.
There was a common charge against all 148 workers who were arrested in July 2012. By a slight of hand, the judgment acquitted 85 of the accused on grounds of the poor investigation; another 22 were acquitted as they could not be identified by prosecution witnesses. In fact the same court had denied the acquitted bail.
This also brings to the fore an important condition of contract labour wherein labour contractors cannot identify their own ‘employees’ making it abundantly clear that they are ‘sham and bogus’ labour arrangers that give companies the avenue to violate labour laws.
In a macabre turn of events on 17 March 2017, the prosecution counsel called upon the court to award a death sentence to the 13 convicted of murder. The prosecution claimed the Punjab and Chandigarh High Court order of 22 May 2013 while denying bail formed the basis for the death penalty. The judgement says: ‘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’ as grounds for the death penalty. The public prosecutor was not just transgressing the very clear law on death sentences laid out by the Supreme Court, but also laying out the agenda of a blood thirsty government signaling to employers that it is willing to send workers to their death if they defy their employers and in particular foreign capital.
The principal basis of the conviction of murder is based on the alleged presence of 13 workers in a particular room of the factory. This amounts to handing out collective punishment in the absence of material evidence. The judgment blindly or without application of mind acknowledges the Maruti-Suzuki management position of the violence caused by workers without even as much as recognizing the events of the day which were part of the persistent attack of the Maruti-Suzuki management on the workers’ right to form a union of their own choice and its refusal to negotiate with the union, over fair and just, workers’ demands.
This judgment has arrived at its conclusion by association and not by evidence severely compromising the independence of the judiciary. This judgment is a fundamental attack on workers’ right to freedom of association. It also confirms that the judiciary is entirely conjoined with both employers and government in pushing the working class towards criminalisation for even their just and fair demands that are protected by the constitution.
The NTUI stands in solidarity with entire membership of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union and especially the comrades convicted of murder and their families for their extraordinary sacrifice and forbearance in this struggle. We also salute the determination of the upwards of 100,000 workers within the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt who have boycotted their factory canteens on successive days in a show of solidarity in advance of the judgement and almost immediate tool down, after the judgement, by all 25,000 workers at all plants of Maruti-Suzuki.
This is not just the struggle of Maruti-Suzuki workers. This is not just the struggle of workers of Manesar-Gurgaon industrial belt. This is our struggle too. This is the struggle of the entire working class. This is a struggle we must win.
As we go forward from here we call upon:
Maruti-Suzuki India Limited to immediately reinstate the 117 acquitted workers with Back Wages with effect from 18 July 2012.
The Government of Haryana to
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