Four former members of Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, among the 148 accused of murder and arson in the July 2012 violence at the company’s Manesar plant, got bail this month after four years. Relieved to be out of jail, they said they have been “targeted for forming an independent union”

If employees today get paid leave or have a six-day work week, it is all thanks to the trade union movement. Labour union leaders around the world have gone to jail or suffered police violence so that a worker’s salary is not cut if he or she takes a sick leave.

Maruti workers’ union organisers Sandeep Dhillon, Suresh Kumar, Pawan Dahiya and Dhanraj Bhambi endured both — jail time and police beatings – in this fight.

Mr. Dhillon (accused no. 102), Mr. Dahiya (accused no. 105), Mr. Kumar (accused no. 113) and Mr. Bhambi (no. 115) are four of the 148 Maruti workers arrested and charged with the murder of Awanish Kumar Dev, the Human Resource manager at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant, in the violence that erupted on July 18, 2012.


All four accused, who were union members at the time of their arrest, were in Haryana’s Bhondsi jail from August 2012 till September 13, 2016. “A politician or an actor gets bail even without stepping inside the prison. However, these workers were denied bail for four years,” said Ramniwas, a former Maruti worker who has been helping them in their legal battle.

When asked for the reason behind his arrest, Mr. Dhillon replied: “For being active in the union, why else?”

The others too felt they were arrested for the same reason. Insisting that they surrendered before the police after their family members were threatened with imprisonment, all four alleged that they endured severe beatings and torture in custody.

Respect for manager

They also believed that the July 18, 2012, violence was a conspiracy to bust the union and to get rid of workers active in its formation. They denied knowing who killed Awanish.

On their relationship with the man they are accused of murdering, Mr. Bhambi said: “I have nothing but respect for him.”

“I still have the text messages he sent on my cellphone,” said Mr. Kumar.

“Of all the workers, I had the best rapport with him. We were close,” said Mr. Dahiya, even as Mr. Dhillon added: “He was a good human being. He understood why we wanted to form a union.”

Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant did not have a union till 2011. After three major strikes, legal battles and protracted negotiations between the workers and the management, the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) was formed in March 2012.

Mr. Dhillon (29) was the chief patron, Mr. Dahiya (31) the secretary, Mr. Kumar (32) the cashier and Mr. Bhambi (31) the executive member of the newly formed union. Along with eight other executive members, including union president Ram Mehar, general-secretary Sarvjeet Singh and vice-president Sohan Kumar who are still in jail, they were the prime movers in the formation of the union.

Their release this month is significant because this is the first time that union members have been granted bail in the case.

When asked about their future plans, they said they haven’t made any because their fate still hangs in balance. The case will most probably be decided in November, when it comes up for final arguments at the Gurgaon sessions court.

All four union workers recount a trajectory of low-paid apprenticeships, followed by stints as contract worker and lengthy traineeship, totalling nearly five years of underpaid insecurity in some cases before permanent employment. This seems to be a common pattern among all the workers terminated by Maruti following the July 2012 incident.

A politician or an actor gets bail even without stepping inside the prison. However, these workers were denied bail for four years