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India: 117 workers acquitted and 31 convicted in Maruti Suzuki case

10 March, 2017On 10 March the Gurgaon district court delivered the judgment on the case on violence at Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant. The court acquitted 117 workers while 31, including all union office bearers, were found guilty.

A violent incident at Maruti Suzuki on 18 July 2012 resulted in the death of a manager. Subsequently, the company fired 546 permanent workers and 1,800 contract workers. Scores of workers were arrested and 139 workers were jailed for more than three and a half years, while eleven workers never got bail.

At the conclusion of the trial, the verdict of the court acquitted 117 workers of all charges, and found 31 guilty.

The sentencing of the workers found guilty will be announced on 17 March. In the absence of conclusive evidence linking workers with the death and arson, the verdict finding all union office bearers guilty sent shock waves among workers and their families.

Jitendar Kumar, one of the acquitted workers who spent two years and nine months in prison said,

“We were subject to repression just because we demanded our rights. We were arrested without an iota of evidence. The jail term turned our life upside down. I am the sole breadwinner for the family. In my absence my family has undergone indescribable suffering.  Now that we are acquitted of all charges, I hope to get back to normal life. All I need is a job to sustain my family and two girl children.”

Vasudev, an acquitted worker who joined the factory just 18 days before the violent incident, spent 33 months in jail. Similarly, Sunil Kumar, a casual worker who worked for five months in the factory, and Vijendar Kumar, an apprentice who worked for just three months also spent 33 months in jail term. Every arrested worker and their family have undergone painful experiences since July 2012.

Ram Niwas, of the provisional working committee, a workers’ body which handles legal issues of workers said,

“It is unjust that 31 workers were held guilty and 13 of them have been convicted for murder. During the trial the prosecution placed no substantial evidence to link workers with violence and arson. Even the prosecution did not provide CCTV footage at the trial. We appeal to all workers to extend solidarity and support the families of convicted workers and join our effort to get all of them released in future.”

Workers’ lawyer Vrinda Grover stated:

“The acquittal of 117 workers of all charges has unequivocally demolished the foundation of the prosecution case.  Eighteen workers have been convicted only for grievous hurt and trespass. Thirteen workers have been convicted for murder.

“What is important to understand is that these 13 are the office bearers of the union and main leaders. They have been implicated in the case and management witnesses have deposed against them because they stood for rights of workers.

“They are paying the price for championing the cause of workers. One man very regrettably lost his life in the fire at the Manesar plant. But there is less than tenuous evidence to link any of these 13 workers to the fire. The legal defense team for the Maruti workers is confident of mounting a very strong challenge to their conviction in appeal before the High Court.”

During the trial, defense lawyers argued that the police conducted a dishonest investigation. The defense pointed out that the investigation was tainted and biased on several crucial aspects, such as the police changing the weapons of offence during the trial, about 88 of the 148 accused were roped in alphabetical order and the witness in the test identification parade identified none of them.

No worker or security personnel was made prosecution witness, no evidence of weapons of offence withstood judicial scrutiny, the entire recovery of weapons is bogus as were many of the medical legal certificates procured by witnesses who initially said that they did not suffer any injury.

After the verdict, workers and union representatives from various companies in the National Capital Region including all Maruti Suzuki plants, Honda, RICO Auto, Bellosonica gathered in Gurgaon and expressed solidarity with the convicted workers.

They expressed deep discontent over the conviction and decided to support workers families and take collective actions. As a mark of protest they decided to boycott lunch on 16 March in all factories in the region.