Mahtab Alam for BeyondHeadlines
Travelling by road to Haryana, say from Delhi to Kaithal via Gurgaon, Jhajjar and Rohtak these past two weeks, one shouldn’t be surprised if one comes across a band of 40-50 people, marching on the left side of the road in double files with red flags and placards in their hands, which read “Inquilab-Zindabad, Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad” and “Haryana Sarkar Murdabad”. They had been marching on these roads on foot since the 15th of this month, under the banner of Maruti Suzuki Workers ‘Union (MSWU), Manesar Plant (Gurgaon). Starting from Kaithal, their march was scheduled to reach Delhi to register their protest at Jantar Mantar and submit a memorandum to the President of India, seeking his intervention into the matter.
One wonders why, when most of North India prefers staying indoors at the mercy of closed walls or whatever they can afford, would they be marching in this chill. “We are marching for Justice,” declares Katar Singh, a member of the marching band. “We want to inform people that we have been forced on this path of struggle to demand the release of 148 workers who are languishing in jail for the past 18 months for no fault of theirs,” he explains. And what was their crime? “Our only crime”, if it’s considered a crime”, says Singh, “is to demand the formation of a Union and the regularisation of contract workers.” “Because we raised the issue of exploitative work conditions inside the factory, we have been targeted,” Singh told this writer while marching to Bhagwatipur from Lakhan Majra of Rohtak District in Haryana.
Katar Singh, originally from Ganghari village of district Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, is in his late twenties and one of the 2300 (546 permanent and 1800 contractual) terminated workers of Maruti Suzuki, Manesar Plant, Gurgaon. He was working in the company since 12 December 2006 as a permanent employee but was terminated on 18th July 2012 without any notice or due procedure being followed. According to the International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR), which investigated the matter in May last year and released its report, in June last year, workers fundamental rights have been grossly violated. “The management of MSIL has engaged in significant violations of law with respect to the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to equal pay for equal work, protected under ILO Conventions 87, 98 and 111,” observes ICLR in its detailed report.
Jai Bhagwan Sharma, an old man from Kothkala area of Hisar district, Haryana has been a participant of this padyatra. When asked what made him be a part of this, he replied, “A Great injustice has been to done to us by the Maruti Company and the Haryana Government. We are marching to convey the message that we will not tolerate this anymore,” 61 year old Sharma, whose son, Pradeep Kaushik is also one of the terminated workers, further adds, “Life has become difficult as there is no other source of livelihood.” He hopes that this time, their struggle would bring some fruitful result.
In these two weeks, a member of the troop described to this writer, and the latter is a testimony to this that, “wherever our Padayatra has gone, people have come out in full support, even arranging food and lodging for all the padayatris, despite the government using all sorts of repressive techniques.” However, on 20th of January, the padyatris could not avail of local hospitality at Kithana and Gatoli villages in Rohtak district, and had to take shelter in a temple. “Local intelligence unit and police personnel have been constantly following our trail,” added an office bearer of Maruti Suziki Workers Union.
Having confronted all these odds and marched about 200 kilometres, the padyatra finally reached Gurgaon on Monday and staged a big public meeting on Tuesday, where they were joined by activists, members of other trade unions as well as workers of Maruti plant in Manesar and general public. Their next stoppage would be today (30th Jan), at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where a joint program of different organisations will be held. As the troop march and march towards Jantar Mantar, an old Hindustani song plays on the record, which is very famous amongst the struggling masses:
Hum Mehnatkash-Mazdoor jab is duniya se jab apna hissa mangene
Aik bagh nahi aik khet nahi Hum sari duniya mangege….
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights activist and journalist. He co-edits IndiaResists.com)