Monday, July 23, 2012

The story of a death on the shop floor: The Maruti episode

Awanish Kumar Dev must not have died. There is no place for murder in a democracy be it that of a manager or a worker. But it was not the first time that someone lost his life in the plant floor. And anyone, any which ideology he is wedded shall not justify murder. Certainly not in a democracy. Having said that, I must add that democracy has to be vibrant and the wheels of justice will have to work. And time is the most important element in a working democracy. I recall a case I had argued for a workman, as a lawyer, where he was thrown out of his job from a factory in Hosur (in Tamil Nadu and bordering Karnataka) as long back in 1989. Even after the long period, when several courts held his dismissal illegal and ordered his reinstatement, the workman is still out of job.
                This man was in his early twenties in 1989; he was unmarried when he lost his job on grounds that the factory had closed down. He raised a dispute soon and the Madras High Court ordered his reinstatement with 25 percent back wages in January 2012. The management is yet to obey the order. The last I heard is that they are offering him compensation and not a job. This man is now married, is father of two children and still waiting for the law, as laid down, to be implemented. I am sure that there are a few thousand such men across the country and more are joining his ranks notwithstanding the boom in the economy.
                The media, particularly the print, has dealt with this aspect in general and the specifics of the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar in detail. But I was struck by the treatment of the story, the evening it happened, at the NDTV. Incidentally, this is the only one of the private-national TV channels that I get where I am and knowing the medium well, I am sure things were not different elsewhere that evening. Let me take up Nidhi Razdan’s Left, Right and Centre, that evening for my critique.
                Nidhi, at the outset, considered it her duty as a journalist to convey to all that there was no way that the workers can be allowed to get away with murder. Well. Even if she did not want that, the law will take its course and the police will certainly do their job and book a few men who were at the plant floor that morning for murder. It is another matter that the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi, carried out in cold blood at his small quarter in Bhilai in July 1991, did not lead to apprehending the murderers and those behind the hired killer. I recall Kannabiran, who was special public prosecutor in that case telling some of us that even while the trial court found the murderers guilty and handed them with death penalty, those behind the hired killer will go scot free as the case went to the higher judiciary. Kannabiran, in his own way, had understood the strength and the weakness of our democracy. He was right. But he was also among those who did not condne violence and lived his life trying to ensure justice through constitutional means.
                What was disturbing about Nidhi Razdan’s show was that she did not want anyone speak about a systemic crisis that and the soft underbelly of our legal machinery that is meant to ensure labour standards and industrial peace. She insisted that those in the panel, including veteran trade union leader Gurudas Das Gupta to simply condemn the violence and leave it to her to say anything and everything. She insisted that Das Gupta say what she wanted and even after the trade unionist explained that no union, including his own, can be allowed to get away with murder, she rubbed him so hard that the veteran threatened to withdraw from the panel. And when he said that, she smiled and accused Das Gupta of being sensitive! Well. One does not know if it is wrong to be sensitive but that is what Nidhi hed against the veteran that evening.
                It was not surprising that Nidhi behaved that way. Like all others who anchor shows, she too believes that the guests shall not be allowed to speak their minds and for the show to go on, there must be balance and it is ensured even if by making ridiculous propositions.  To say that the workers, most of them without names at that stage, must be held guilty of murder and that they all must be hanged is tantamount to cocking a snoot at the law and the legal process. For, in order to hang someone for murder, one has to establish that the murder was premeditated and that those on the shop floor that morning had met elsewhere, worked out on the details and then executed their plans with such precision. In any case, it will be a first in our history if the prosecution manages to establish the meeting of ninety odd minds and that so many men had planned so many things to kill Awanish Kumar Dev.
                One would have found the discussion that evening far more ridiculous if someone from the Haryana Police was brought to the studio and interrogated as to why the police had not filed a charge-sheet yet.
                The fallacy, so to say, was sought to be remedied though. Nidhi and her team found one of Awanish’s colleague to the studio. Or did she get two? Yes. There were two of them joining the discussion and their only credential was that they knew Awanish. And both testified that Awanish was, unlike the breed of managers, someone who loved the workers, lived the same way the workers lived and ate the same way as did the workers. That he was soft-spoken and unlike the workers on the shop floor a hard core follower of non-violence. That he did not shout at the workers. And that he too had a family. He had all these attributes despite having been to a Business School.  He wore a neck tie in the mug-shot picture of his and this was enough to strike a chord with anyone of the channel’s viewers; the mothers and fathers in our drawing rooms saw their own son in Awanish; the young wives saw their own husband in Awanish. Booming India, in other words, is bound to see the incident as something that they must be concerned and send an SMS to the channel condemning the murder.
                It does not matter whether the murderers were hanged or whether they will be let off, after many years, for want of evidence to establish that they conspired, premeditated and executed an act punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. And when flights get cancelled on a foggy day or when petro-products price is hiked, the same set of people who sought an unequivocal condemnation of the workers may again condemn the state and the liberal regime for hitting the lives of these ``common’’ people.
                Watching the show, which was on my own volition, reminded me of a book that I had read several years ago. A book that had changed the way I saw the world since then. That was a book that changed the way a number of journalists had seen themselves and the world and thus made the profession what it was in our own times. Some of them wrote about the squalor in which the workers lived, procreated and died in the slums. Some of them campaigned against displacement of workers and slum dwellers and even played a role in the reinterpretation of the Constitution and its provisions and thus strengthened the democratic edifice. The book that had made a difference in some of our lives is The Outsider by Albert Camus. The protagonist there is painted a bad guy by the prosecution because he did not cry in front of his mother’s dead body and because he even smoked while sitting before the coffin and for not having taken care of his mother and having left her in a old age home. And this is held against him as evidence of his criminal nature and the judges send him to the guillotine. The fact is that he had killed another man at the spur of a moment.
In case of Nidhi Razdan, the whole effort seemed to be to paint Awanish as a wonderful human being (even while being a manager) and hence those who ended up being there on the shop floor when violence broke out must be held as murderers and guilty under Section 302 of the IPC.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The SFI's JNU unit is disbanded!!!!

I recall an evening at the Sutlej Hostel mess in JNU way back in 1985. At a general body meeting of the SFI, for which the then all India president, Nepal Dev Bhattacharya had come, an innocuous question by one of our comrades led up to a long debate. Nepal Dev had made a point that the SFI is not a wing or an affiliate of the CPI(M). And that it is an autonomous organisation.
I think it was Sanjay Nayak who insisted that this point be debated. He recalled instances where the SFI behaved another way. And Nepal Deo simply pulled out the SFI programme to tell us all that the autonomous nature of the organisation was clearly stated in that. And thus began a debate that went on for more than a couple of hours. It was hilarious sometimes and acrimonious some other time. For me, having been part of the SFI in Tamil Nadu, where there was no such pretension, all that was said by the all India president sounded absurd. In Tamil Nadu, we functioned out of the CPI(M)’s premises and even used to deposit the organisation’s funds with the secretary in the party office. One of the party’s leaders in the district was also a permanent invitee in our meetings; let me add that he steered the meetings.
In any case, I was just past my teens then. And the adolescent in me provoked me to do some mischief. I just pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a resolution that the SFI, JNU unit, resolves that Comrade Nepaldev Bhattacharya, shall henceforth resign from the CPI(M) and that his association with the CPI(M) as a member of the West Bengal State Committee was found as affecting his autonomy and hindered the functioning of the SFI of which he was the all India president. I was too young then to realise that the resolution belonged to the same league as the one raised by Madhu Limaye in the Janata Party.
I do recall now that Nepaldev, a simple man that he was, was taken aback and the SFI JNU unit leaders were angry. The resolution was passed by a majority and in a matter of minutes, the little leaders around found a way out. They said that Nepaldev belonged to the SFI across the country and that one unit cannot dictate his own decision to be part of the CPI(M) and that the resolution, even if passed, was not binding unless it was taken up at the SFI all India conference. I must add here that Nepaldev was expelled from the CPI(M) some year later. And he was also too old by then and had been relieved from the SFI too.
I reiterate now that all that I did that evening was just mischief. I knew even then that the CPI(M) steered the SFI as it did with the CITU, DYFI, AIDWA, AIKS and the various other such outfits. I had no issues with that even then. Used to get irritated at times when some leaders in the party thought they must control the organisation even in its day to day affairs. It was a fact that those from Vithalbhai Patel House, where the SFI headquarters was located used to insist on being present in the various meetings and general bodies of the SFI in JNU. And there was one Comrade Joginder Singh, as secretary of the Delhi State CPI(M)  who thought we were all little kids to be minded and mended.
I recall all these after reading the news that the SFI’s JNU unit has been disbanded. And this was done because the unit resolved to condemn the CPI(M) for supporting Pranab Mukherjee for President. I do see the influence of Prasenjit Bose in the JNU unit so strong. But should the unit have been disbanded for opposing the party? Well. I was asked to show cause once for having made a critical remark against Subhashini Ali’s lecture on Kashmir in a public meeting in JNU. I simply said then that her speech on Kashmir sounded like an address by L.K.Advani. Yes. I thought she went jingoistic and said that. I was taken to task then and the little leaders of the SFI in JNU did that.