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Police savage striking Haryana workers

LIKE A WAR ZONE: Police mercilessly beat up Honda factory workers at Gurgaon, Haryana, on Monday after they blocked a highway and attacked a small police squad escorting them. - PHOTO: AP

LIKE A WAR ZONE: Police mercilessly beat up Honda factory workers at Gurgaon, Haryana, on Monday after they blocked a highway and attacked a small police squad escorting them. - PHOTO: AP  

Hundreds of workers, 25 policemen injured in pitched battles in Gurgaon; strong political protests; probe ordered

GURGAONGURGAON: Prashant Pandey

GURGAONGURGAON: A protest by workers of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) seeking higher wages and re-employment of suspended employees snowballed into a major confrontation here on Monday with the police brutally assaulting them. Hundreds of protesters and some police personnel were injured, many of them critically.

Trouble started after the protesters caught the policemen by surprise, attacking them with stones and sticks near the ITI on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road. Many policemen, including Deputy Superintendent Jag Pravesh Dahiya, were injured. The mob burnt a vehicle of the area sub-divisional magistrate and two police vehicles. The police retaliation was disproportionate a couple of hours later at the Mini Secretariat; they surrounded the workers and thrashed them, leaving many workers bleeding with broken limbs.

The police said a large group of workers, protesting against the management of HMSI that sacked several employees earlier, gathered at the Kamla Nehru Park around 9 a.m. The workers later began marching on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road raising slogans and carrying banners decrying the management. At this point, the administration apparently did not have any information on the movement of the huge crowd. Around 1 p.m., the protesters were stopped near the ITI and asked to disperse as they had no permission to stage a demonstration.

Vehicles torched

At this point, the crowd became restive and started attacking, claim the police. The policemen scurried for safety. Those who were caught were beaten up.The mob set on fire the jeep of the Superintendent of Police and two other police vehicles.

For the next two hours, chaos reigned as the protesters ran berserk in other areas of the town. They smashed the windowpanes of a few shops.

Unprovoked

Around 1 p.m., the workers collected near the Mini-Secretariat after having been apparently told that the administration and the HMSI management were ready to talk to them. In the next couple of hours, the Gurgaon police called for reinforcements. Around 3 p.m., the police began the strong action which eyewitnesses said was without provocation. Workers who were huddled in groups near the Mini-Secretariat were brutally beaten up.

While unconfirmed reports put the number of injured in the police action at more than 700, the Haryana Government maintained that only 65 protesters were hurt. It put the number of injured policemen at 25.

The "action" continued for the next couple of hours. Even after that, the atmosphere remained tense as many of the injured were bleeding profusely, while many lay unconscious. The condition of some of the injured was reported to be serious.

The administration claimed that it would register a case against those responsible for initiating the "riot." But there was no word of action against the policemen.

However, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda ordered an inquiry.

The standoff between the HMSI management and the workers started about six months ago when a management personnel reportedly hit a worker.

The services of four workers who came in support of their colleague were terminated. Another 50 workers, who protested against the dismissal of the four employees, were also put under suspension.The dispute escalated and, over a period, the management dismissed about a thousand workers. The protests against the management began thereafter.

Our New Delhi Staff Reporter writes:

United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed "deep anguish" at the "brutal lathicharge."

Terming the whole episode "unfortunate", Ms. Gandhi, in a statement, directed Mr. Hooda to inquire into the incident immediately and take appropriate action against those responsible for it.

PTI reports:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed "deep anguish and concern" over the police action and asked the State Government to take action against those held responsible for the violence.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and BJP president L.K. Advani spoke to Dr. Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil expressing serious concern over the ``brutality'' by the Haryana police.

``Advani sought the immediate intervention of the Centre in the matter more so as there is a Congress Government in power in the State,'' party spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said.

Honda talks tough

Maintaining its tough posture, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India said that it would not reinstate any of the suspended workers without the completion of an inquiry against them.

``Even though Monday's incident is unfortunate, we cannot take back any of the suspended employees till a third-party inquiry against them is completed,'' a company official told PTI from its factory in Manesar.

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