When Vakeela Khan got married to Imaan Khan, a worker at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki six years ago, she had dreamt of a happy life. All was going well for Imaan, who was actively trying to form a labour union at the plant until July 18, 2012, when the factory witnessed violence in which one senior Maruti executive was killed.
After the incident, the company fired 546 “permanent” and 1,800 “temporary” workers allegedly without any proper enquiry and any prior show-cause notice. The police arrested 149 of them, including prominent members of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union.
Imaan along with his fellow workers formed a Provisional Committee of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union in order to continue fighting against “oppression” of the Maruti management. But he was also arrested in January this year and charged with murder while he was attending a press conference on the issue of the arrested Maruti workers.
At a public hearing last Friday, Vakeela narrated how tough life has been for her and their seven-year-old son without Imaan, the only breadwinner of her family. “It has been seven months since he was arrested. We are almost on the brink of starvation. I had to see my son dropping out of school because I did not have the money to pay his fees. We shifted back to the village to survive on a very meagre amount,” said a distressed Vakeela.
Vakeela is not the only one suffering. Some of the affected family members of the 147 arrested Maruti workers shared their agonies and difficult circumstances at the public hearing.
Mahabir Dhiman, a labour union leader said: “Children are forced to drop out of school. In some cases, old parents of some of the workers have expired during this period. Some are severally unwell. But the Haryana Government is treating them as its enemies.”
After hearing the representations from the grieving families of the workers, the jury — which included intellectuals and lawyers — argued that they were arrested and charged without “proper investigation”.
“As many as 147 workers are being charged under Section 302 of the IPC for the alleged murder of one person, which defies all credibility. Those who have been arrested have been kept in jail for more than one year, which is a gross violation of their human rights,” said the jury, which included academician Professor Prabhat Patnaik and Supreme Court lawyers Dr. Kirti Singh and Colin Gonsalves.
“They have not been granted parole even in cases of deaths of family members where established legal precedent shows that they should have been. The legal provision of bail, too, has been systematically denied to these workers. Most of whom belong to poor families and are the only breadwinner of their families,” added the jury.
Maruti union leaders argued that workers have repeatedly represented their case before various State and Central authorities, but there has been no response till date and whenever workers, their family members and sympathisers jointly protested, their peaceful demonstrations were “brutally” lathicharged by the police.