Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Death and the Factory:The Casualties of Maruti Suzuki, Manesar

Since the day of the confirmation of the unfortunate and condemnable death of Awanish Kumar Dev, a sad casualty of the ongoing class conflict in north Indian Industrial heartland of Haryana, we have witnessed tsunami of rage from those who view the killing of a manager in a factory as a calamity. Regrettably, sometimes the most terrible of tragedies (and the death of Mr. Dev is no doubt a profound human tragedy for his family and friends) becomes an instrument for larger and more impersonal agendas.

On the first of May, (International Labour Day) 2009, several workers at the Lakhani Shoe Factory in Faridabad, Haryana, were struck by a ball of fire, which engulfed them before they could run to save their lives. The fire, caused by willful neglect of elementary safety procedures, did not result in criminal charges being framed against the management or proprietors of the Lakhani Vardaan Group, which owns the Lakhani Shoes Factory.
A report in the Gurgaon Workers News (No.9/18) has this account of the fire -
“On 1st of May 2009 the Lakhani Shoes factory, plot 122 in Faridabad Sector 24 caught fire, the newspapers first wrote of six, then of ten, then of fifteen dead workers. Lakhani is said to be the country’s largest maker and exporter of canvas and vulcanised shoes, has two dozen units in the district. A younger worker who is employed in a neighbouring factory came to Faridabad Majdoor Library three days later. He said that it is more than likely that 50 – 100 or more workers have been killed. A boiler on the first floor exploded, the floor collapsed and buried many workers who were waiting for their over-time payment in the basement. He said that he saw at least 100 burnt bicycles outside the factory. He met a landlord in industrial village Mujesar who said that his three tenants, employed at Lakhani haven’t returned. He met an older woman whose son is still missing. Most of these workers were not officially employed, their names were not on the Lakhani pay-roll. Many of them were from Nepal and single, meaning that they were not immediately reported missing by their families. From the reported 38 workers who were brought to various hospitals – in Faridabad there is no hospital for severe burn treatment – only one worker had an official ESI health insurance number. The rest is unknown.”
Bodies burnt to cinders are difficult to identify, unless they leave behind distinct identifying objects, like gold teeth. DNA matches are possible to do if there are records of relatives. None of the workers at the Lakhani fire had gold teeth. Many of them were contract workers, nobody knew who their relatives were. They were incinerated without trace.
On the 20th of July 2012, a charred body found at the site of an incident of alleged mob violence the evening before (19th July) by the workers of Maruti Suzuki India Limited’s Manesar plant was identified as that of Awanish Kumar Dev, a manager in the Human Resources department of the Maruti Suzuki Manesar Plant. Mr. Dev had a gold tooth. DNA samples were also taken and these proved his identity when matched with DNA samples taken from his immediate family. His family’s agony, while waiting for confirmation of the identity of the deceased, can not be imagined. Imagine the agony of the relatives of some of the evaporated workers of Lakhani shoes.
Several posts in Kafila have gone into the background of the tragic incident of Mr. Dev’s death in Manesar in some detail. We have guest-posts from the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union, and posts from Aman Sethi, Aditya Nigam and Anumeha Yadav. Each of these has been useful in thinking through this thorny and intractable issue. In the interests of economy, I will try and not repeat what they have said already. My concern is death, and the meaning of death, especially when it happens in and around a factory... Read more: