13 Maruti-Suzuki Workers Convicted of Murder for Forming a Trade Union
The New Trade Union Initiative condemns the judgment of the Additional District and Sessions Court, Gurgaon, in the 18 July 2012 incident at Maruti-Suzuki Limited’s Manesar plant, in which a manager unfortunately lost his life, convicting 13 workers with murder. 18 other have been 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. The sentences of the 31 convicted workers will be announced by the court on 17 March.
The ruling of the District court after a four-and-a-half year trial is based on flimsy and weak evidence. In the course of the hearings the prosecution failed to establish even circumstantial evidence to show that any of those convicted in any way caused the violence that took place, leave alone the death. The ruling also goes against the forensic evidence and post-mortem report that was placed before the court. Critically, officers of the company, including the one who lodged the First Information Report, who were produced before the Court as prosecution witnesses denied they were present at the time of the incident. Some of them even admitted that they were acting under Maruti-Suzuki management direction.
Of the 13 convicted of murder 11 Ram Meher, Sarabjeet Singh, Sarvjit Dhillon, Ram Vilas, Pawan Kumar, Sohan Lal, Ajmer Singh, Sukh Kumar, Amarjeet, Yogesh, and Dhanraj Bambi were the office bearers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, who were in place on the day of the incident. The twelfth, 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. And the thirteenth conviction of Pradeep Gujjar is inexplicable since he, unlike the others, was earlier granted bail by the court.
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 MarutiSuzuki management to rid themselves of the union, its leadership and 2,300+ workers who were summarily dismissed.
There was a common charge against all 148 workers who were arrested in July 2012. That the court blithely acquitted 117 workers is indicative of the lack of evidence. In fact the same court denied the acquitted bail. The first of them got bail through a direction Supreme Court in February 2015 which was 31 months after the incident. In fact in the first set of appeals for bail against the District Court refusal the Punjab and Chandigarh High Court while denying bail said in its written order of 22 May 2013: “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.’
Today’s judgment has arrived at its conclusion by association and not by evidence severely compromising the independence of the judiciary. The court has taken it upon its shoulders the task of advancing what employers and the government would like to tell workers: if you join or form a trade union this is where you will end. 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. Your struggle is our struggle too.
The NTUI salutes the determination of the 25,000 Maruti-Suzuki workers who boycotted their factory canteens yesterday in a show of solidarity in advance.
The NTUI has from the very start stood with the membership of the Maruti-Suzuki Workers’ Union from the very start. This we will continue to do.
Today’s judgement is not an isolated event. It is in a continuum of court orders of recent years including those of Pricol, Graziano and Regency Ceramics. These decisions cannot be fought in the court room alone but has to be fought in every factory and at every picket. This too the NTUI will do with every militant trade union force willing to fight this fight together.
General Secretary of the NTUI,
New Delhi, 10 March 2017