Friday, March 10, 2017

Worker's Advocate statement on Maruti judgement // 13 Maruti-Suzuki Workers Convicted of Murder for Forming a Trade Union - NTUI Statement

The judgment of the Gurgaon trial court in the Maruti workers case acquitting 117 workers of all charges has unequivocally demolished the foundation of the prosecution case. 18 workers have been convicted only for grievous hurt and trespass. 13 workers have been convicted for murder. What is important to understand is that these 13 are the office bearers of the Union and the main leaders. 

They have been implicated in the case and management witnesses have deposed against them because they stand for rights of workers. They are paying the price of championing the cause of workers. One man very regrettably lost his life in the fire at the Manesar plant. But there is less than tenuous evidence to link any of these 13 workers to the fire. 

The legal defence team for the Maruti workers is confident of mounting a very strong challenge to their conviction in appeal before the High Court. The judgment vindicates our stand that a very large number of workers were falsely implicated to prejudice the public opinion and project an exaggerated and alarming version of the incident. 

The question to ask today is who will be held accountable for the incarceration that these 117 suffered for over 2 years in jail. Will the police officers who arrested them on the dictates of Maruti Suzuki company be held answerable by the law?

For the 13 convicted for murder we shall fight we shall win. 

The legal defence team is - Sr Adv Rebecca Mammen John, Sr Adv RS Chema and Vrinda Grover with stellar support from Harsh Bora, Ratna Appnender and Tarannum Cheema.

13 Maruti-Suzuki Workers Convicted of Murder for Forming a Trade Union
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 Maruti-Suzuki 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.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary