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PUCL, August 2005

A PUCL Delhi report

Gurgaon police violence against workers

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Also see, 'Planned state violence: reports', The Hindu, 27 August 2005

Multinational -- local administration nexus assaults democratic rights of labour

On July 25, 2005 Gurgaon police beat up thousands of workers in the premises of Mini Secretariat that is the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Gurgaon district. This incident took place in full glare of television and print cameras that amply testifies to the brutality and absolute disregard of all human rights and decency by the Haryana police. PUCL General Secretary Y P Chhibbar deputed a three member fact finding committee to report on the matter.

The members of the committee were Dr. Pushkar Raj, Secretary PUCL, Shri Mahipal Singh, General Secretary PUCL-Delhi, and Shri Dharambir, Member Executive of PUCL-Delhi. Following is the report of the committee.

Background of the incident
The Honda Motors and Scooters, (Honda), a Japanese multinational automobile company has a huge manufacturing plant at about 30 km from Delhi at Manesar that falls in Gurgaon district of Haryana State. There are about 3000 workers who have been working for years in the company without a major unrest.

It was reported that in recent times the workers were not happy with the behavior of one of the Vice-Presidents of the company who is known by the name of Hiroshe. He reportedly kicked a worker Rajesh who works with Weld shop department on December 16, 2004. The workers felt humiliated and protested against this inhuman treatment of one of their fellow worker. But the management brushed aside the issue saying that the workers should be more careful in their interaction with company officials, specially the foreign ones. Not very long after this incident Hiroshe tossed the turban of a Sikh worker who felt so humiliated that he did not report on work for a couple of days.

The workers again protested but were coerced into silence.
Given these major and a few other minor incidents the workers decided that they should have an employees union that could protect their collective interests. They initiated the process of coming under an institutionalized umbrella and initiated the formalities of forming an union named `Honda Employees Union. Its registration came into being on May 30, 2005. The union became affiliated to the AITUC, the trade Union of CPI.

The management resented the move and began a strategy to sabotage the union.

It is reported that first the management tried to engineer a split in the union. But when it did not work they decided to resort to lockout for the existing worker and announced a fresh recruitment drive.

Workers version
PUCL spoke to a large number of workers. In the report they have not been named due to possibility of future harassment at work place. Following is the workers version on the whole incident.

The workers of the Honda who report to duty at 7:00 in the morning and get conveyance at designated places did not get any conveyance on June 27. When they reached the place of their work by their own means they found a posse of police inside and outside the gate of the factory and a big lock on the main gate. Beside they found a notice on the gate that those who would give an undertaking of good conduct will be permitted to enter the factory premises. In other words it meant that those who `will not participate or become a member of the employees union will be permitted to enter the factory.

By 8:30 AM almost all the employees had come and gathered in the park in front of the gate of the factory. They all decided that all of them will give the undertaking of `good conduct and will not participate in the union activities. The management had not anticipated this development. They had expected a split among the workers. The management therefore at 1:30 PM announced through loud speakers that services of all the worker stand terminated forthwith and no worker should come into the vicinity of 100 meters of the factory. There were a large number of police (around 150) to implement the threat of the management.

The next day the management of the Honda company began recruiting new workers from the rear gate.

The workers told the PUCL that the District Commissioner (DC) Mr Sudhir Rajpal himself went to some nearby villages and announced that there is a recruitment drive going on in Honda and they should go for employment. When the workers were asked as how do they know that the DC had himself gone to nearby villages announcing about the recruitment they responded that a large number of them are from the same neighboring villages and many people who came to seek the employment in the company were from these villages. The workers also told us that the management also inserted an advertisement for fresh recruitment in the company in a Hindi daily Daink Jaagaran.

These developments caused bags of worry to the workers. They daily came with the food boxes in their hands and gathered silently into the park in front of the Honda factory. They hoped for a process of negotiation that would lead to their entry into the factory. Meanwhile the union leaders continued to talk to the District Commissioner and the Labor Commissioner for settlement of the dispute between the workers and the management. The management never invited the workers leader for negotiation. They always preferred talking to workers through the government officials.

After a few days it was reported that the management agreed, through the government officials, that they will take the workers in a group of 400 each. The workers agreed. But the management went back on their word. Later the management told the workers that they will take them back in a group of 100 each. The management further said that they will not take back the suspension of 50 and service termination notice of four workers who were punished for lack of good conduct. The workers did not accept these terms of the management.

Further, it has been a rule in the company that those workers who come through a series of tests and are put on two years of training, are absorbed in the company after completion of the said training. But recently the management terminated the services of 40 workers who had completed the said training. The workers asked for their right of employment to be protected under the rules as it was a difficult proposition for these workers to get job after investing two years for the company for which they aspired to work.

It was in this background the workers decided to hold a rally on July 11 to impress upon the district administration the need for implementation of their demands. They were supposed to gather near the residence of the Deputy Commissioner. But the district administration imposed section 144 near the residence of the DC from the night of 10 July itself. Consequently about 6000 workers, (these included workers from other factories also as a mark of solidarity with the Honda workers) gathered at Kamala Nehru park the next day, where AITUC leader Gurudas Das Gupta and Amarjit Kaur addressed the workers. The DC and the SDM came there and received the memorandum from the workers.

The memorandum called upon the district administration to prevail upon the Honda factory management to take the workers back on work. Gurudas Das Gupta assured the workers that he will speak to the concerned authorities in Chandigarh too and if the demands of the workers are not met they will gherao the Parliament on July 28, 2005.

But before approaching the Parliament as suggested by Gurudas Das Gupta the workers once again wanted to appeal to the district administration by way of a rally and for that purpose they gathered at Kamla Nehru park on July 25 at around 9:30 am. They were about 2500 to 3000 in number and their union leaders addressed them. After that they resolved to march to the Mini Secretariat, the DCs office, in a single file form so that the traffic is not disrupted.

Nearly half way down near local Industrial Training Institute (ITI) the police stopped them. The leaders of the workers argued with the police that they were going towards the Mini Secretariat in a peaceful manner to give a memorandum to the District Administration and were not causing any public disturbance. The police officer in charge, Jag Parvesh Dahiya, responded that there were orders from above not to let the workers go further. The situation got tense as police threatened force. The ensuing melee resulted into stone pelting from the side of the workers and burning of two government vehicles. Sensing trouble and their numerical inferiority the police withdrew from the scene. The workers later resumed their march towards the Mini Secretariat.

The Mini Secretariat is a huge building set in the middle of barricaded parks on its left and right side. The workers reached the Mini Secretariat and sat under the shade of trees in a barricaded park on the left within the compound of the Secretariat building. The workers became apprehensive as they saw a very large number of police force and the DC and the SDM wearing a full safety kit. But then they thought that there was no cause for worry as there was no possibility of a confrontation as they merely wanted to submit a memorandum to the concerned officers. They relaxed under the shades of trees as their leaders were in the process of handing over the memorandum to the concerned officials.

It was at about 2:30 when suddenly the police pounced on them with big sticks and lathies. They began beating the sitting workers while they had no escape route. They were surrounded from all sides as the television cameras and print media have very well recorded. They were beaten like pulp resulting into severe head and limb injuries. Around 700 workers were injured, about 100 of them seriously. The injured, irrespective of their nature of injury, were dragged and dumped like felled wood in vehicles and were taken to local civil hospitals where there was an immediate shortage of beds. As many as three workers shared one bed. As more and more injured workers were brought in the hospital arrangement to treat the seriously injured proved lacking. In the process of shifting the workers, the police pocketed the cash, mobile phones, gold rings, and chains that a large number of the injured were wearing.

The workers did not get any medical attention or treatment worth the name in the local civil hospital. Three days after the incident when PUCL team visited the hospital not even a single worker, who was the victim of police brutality, was in the hospital. The injured left for private clinics and hospitals for medical treatment. Later some of he workers with fracture injuries were shifted to Bhondsi district jail on the basis of false cases that had been registered against them.

Police version
SSPs office and Deputy Commissioners office declined to speak to PUCL as they said they were proceeding on leave. PUCL spoke to the city police station officials. They said that the workers who were going to the Mini Secretariat became violent near ITI. Asked as to why they became violent they added that when there are so many people they are prone to violence. In order to control and disperse them the police resorted to laathi-charge and tear gas. According to these police officials the workers pelted stones and burnt some vehicles including a police vehicle. DSP head-quarter, Shri Jag Pravesh Dhiya, sustained injuries in the incident. Asked if some one else was also injured they feigned ignorance. Asked about the nature of injuries sustained by the said DSP the police said that though he was admitted for treatment at Kalyani Hospital on July 25 he was discharged on the same day and is on duty since then. They further said that the police withdrew from the scene after these incidents and workers began their march towards the Mini Secretariat.

According to the police the workers marched to the Mini Secretariat with the intension of burning it down. The workers were merely prevented from doing so.

The two FIRS were lodged against the workers in the city police station. One FIR was registered on the complaint of DSP (HQ) Jag Pravesh Dahiya on the Mehrauli Road incident in which he was injured and public property was damaged. Under the FIR no. 436 dated 25 July 05 under section 148, 149, 332, 353, 435, 427, 188 (IPC) 307 (IPC) 283 3-3/1984 PPD Act sixty workers were named. Another FIR No. 437 was lodged on the complaint of Balwan Singh, Inspector, SHO City Gurgaon, on the incident of Mini Secretariat that happened at about 3 oclock on the same day. The sections of this FIR according to police are 148, 149, 332, 353, 188, 427 (IPC). The same sixty people who were named in the earlier FIR were named under this FIR also.

When the concerned police officials were asked as how it was possible that the workers who were injured in laathi-charge near ITI could be the same who took part in violence, if any, on the part of workers at Mini Secretariat, they had no plausible answers.

Managements version
It was a difficult exercise to get someone from the management side of Honda Scooters to speak to the PUCL team. Nevertheless with repeated telephonic persistence we could get the management perspective on the incident. Vivek Vishwaanathan of Personnel Department of the Honda Company told PUCL that it was wrong to say that there was a lock out. He said that there were growing incidents of indiscipline that had resulted into fall in production of the unit. He said that the company reported loss of as many as 23000 units in the month of June.

Asked why the workers were resorting to such indiscipline, was it because their grievances were not addressed satisfactorily, he said that he had no comments to offer.

Mr Vishwaanathan further added that on June 25 the management restrained workers from entering the premise because they wanted them to sign an undertaking of `good conduct. When told that all the workers were ready to sign the such undertaking on the said day , he said it was not true.
When he was asked whether the managements action was in response to the workers forming the union, he said it was not true. Since the management was tired of fall in production it wanted to reign in the workers through its own in-house mechanism. Asked why there was a large presence of police on the day of the alleged lockout, Mr Vishwaanathan said that they apprehended trouble from the side of workers therefore the police was called as a preventive measure.

AITUC version
AITUC leader Mr D L Sachdeva confirmed the allegation of the workers that there was a constant harassment of the workers and quite a few of them were suspended and the services of a few terminated as they began the process of unionisation.

He further said that once the union was registered they approached us for affiliation and we accorded them the affiliation. He alleged that their intervention to break the dead lock was largely ineffective because the administration was uncooperative and colluded with the management against the workers. He said that the management never showed any reconciliation gestures and they seemed bent on retrenching the existing workers and recruiting the new ones on a set of rules that would curtail workers democratic right to organise and raise voice against any wrong doing on the part of management.

Conclusion
The workers of Honda were insulted and humiliated by the management occasionally and that caused them to decide to organise themselves into a Union and protect their self respect and dignity so that they could resort to a collective action in case of gross misdemeanor in relation to any of their co-workers.

The management having got wind of initiation of process of unionization by the workers resorted to stop it by initiating inquiries against some, suspending others, and dismissing a few. It was an act of intimidation and sabotage against formation of the workers labor union in the company. When it did not succeed and the labour union came in existence the management resorted to the lockout and decided to replace all the workers through fresh recruitment.

There seems prima-facie open collusion of the local civil and police administration with the management against the workers. The management could not have taken such a big decision to retrench 3000 workers in one go without the open support of the local civil and police administration. The presence of a large number of police force on the day of lock-out testifies that the local senior civil and police officials readily obliged the management by sending the asked police force.

There were stray incident of violence at Mehrauli Road as the workers were marching towards the Mini Secretariat because the police tried to stop them there. It is not ruled out that there could have been some anti-social elements and onlookers in the crowd who had nothing to do with the demands of the workers. As it is, the image of police in public is at lower ebb and some people might vent their anger against them if they are sure that it would pass as an anonymous act. However, it cannot be ruled out that some workers were involved in these anti-police violent incidents. But it was not a planned action on the part of the workers. It was a spontaneous reaction by retrenched and harassed workers who were being stopped from registering their protest. Had it been a planned act by the workers they would not walk three kilometer in the sun to reach the Mini Secretariat to face the same policemen whom they had beaten or chased away.

The workers were persuaded to march and reach the Mini Secretariat for the memorandum to be received by the Deputy Commissioner and here the police in order to teach a lesson to the workers gheroed them and beat them mercilessly leading to serious internal and external bodily injuries to them.
It was a planned act of state violence against the unarmed workers as the district administration had mobilized a large police force from the neighboring police stations and all the police and civil officials were wearing the full safety kit.

The cases against the workers are foisted. As two FIRs that were filed against the workers have identical names though there is a gap of three kilometers and four hours between the two incidents. It seems that the police already had a list of workers who had to be slapped with cases.

Recommendations
A time-bound (maximum three months) inquiry by the NHRC should be setup so that the accountability for the brutal attack on the unarmed workers is fixed and the criminal cases should be initiated against the guilty police and civil personals including the senior officers who supervised the use of violence against the workers.

As is amply clear from the above report the cases against the workers have been concocted. Therefore all the criminal cases against them in various police stations should be withdrawn forthwith.

Those workers who have been injured in the incident must be provided with all the possible assistance in their medical treatment beside monetary compensation for the deceitful and brutal attack consequent to the exercise of their democratic right.

 

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