Arbitrary arrests and third degree torture of Maruti workers in the name of investigation in to alleged murder of its HR Manager

 Based upon its preliminary investigation, PUDR asserts that instead of a thorough investigation into the alleged murder of Awanish Dev, Manager, Maruti Suzuki Ltd’s Manesar plant on 18 July 2012, the Haryana police have been responsible for arbitrary arrests of workers, illegal detention and harassment of their family members as well as custodial violence. Our findings reveal how miscarriage of justice has occurred and continues at many levels:

1. Identifying Suspects
  • A large number of the over 145 arrests of workers that have been made in the case are unrelated to the crimes in the FIR.  There have been different rounds of arrests. The first 93 arrests for instance took place at random on 18-19 July and included workers not even present at the factory site. 
  • Subsequently, apart from union office bearers arrested, many coordinators nominated for routine union work were arrested. Many of the workers who have been arrested are those who were also active in the 2011 protests.
  • Testimonies reveal that the basis of arrests is a list of names provided by the Company, of workers who were articulate or otherwise active in the union. For example, one worker picked up on 6 August was at his residence since he had no reason to fear arrest.  Six policemen came in the middle of the night in civilian clothes from the Gurgaon CIA and arrested him. They told the family that the Company had given his name to the police. Yet another worker who had worked in Shift A ending at 3pm on 18 July reached his village at 7 pm. Ten days later, the CIA staff came to arrest him stating that the Company had given his name and he had to present himself at the police station.  When he did so, he was arrested and remanded to judicial custody. His family members were not informed. On 17 August, the SHO Manesar PS. admitted in open court that the names of several workers being arrested is based on a list provided to the police by the Company.
  • A number of workers, including at least one union member and 25 contract workers, who are in jail, were on leave on 18 July. The Company has been refusing to submit attendance records, claiming that they were destroyed. 
  • The use of hired bouncers to create fear and intimidation in a situation that began as a routine conflict between a worker and a supervisor is shocking. Many were in the Maruti uniform without the badge. An entire list of those involved in the crime is therefore yet to emerge clearly.
  • Even before investigations are complete, 546 workers have been terminated by the Company. A standard covering letter accompanied by a “Speaking Order” has been issued by the Director and MEO (Production) accusing the worker of being involved in events that led to the death of Awanish Dev and engaged in “nefarious activities and gross misconduct”. The letter states that the Company has “lost confidence” in the worker. The Company has thus pre-judged and taken action against these workers by terminating them. Allegations and action of this kind by the Company heighten the vulnerability of workers since the original FIR is made against “500 to 600” unnamed accused.
  • There is at least one instance of a worker who was arrested because his first name was the same as that of a more active union member. Despite clarification by relatives of the union member, and the later arrest of the union member both workers are in jail. 
 
2. Family Members Harassed
  • Harassment, illegal detention and intimidation of family members of the named accused have taken place, especially before the ‘surrender’ of the union members, itself represented by the police as their ‘arrest’ from Hansi on 1 August. 
  • Testimonies have borne this out amply. The father, brother and brother-in-law of one of the office-bearers of MSUWU, were picked up for interrogation and illegally detained for days in the Sector 10 CIA police lock-up in Gurgaon. Relatives were other office bearers were also detained for over 24 hours, without any official entries being made. The father-in-law of another union leader was taken for interrogation three times by the police, despite his repeated statements that he did not know his son-in-law’s whereabouts. The worker’s wife and two small children were prevented from being taken away by the police by the intervention of villagers, on the grounds that no policewomen were present. 
  • Several families of arrested workers were not informed of their arrest by the police. A worker’s mother stated she was informed of her son’s arrest only 10-12 days later by anonymous phone call. Some were informed by neighbours and friends. In several of the arrests the police came in plainclothes without any visible name-tag or rank. 
 
3. Torture of Workers in Custody
  • Several arrested workers have faced severe beating and torture in police custody. On 2 August, 2 of the 12 accused union leaders who were presented in Gurgaon court were seen to be limping due to injuries sustained during police interrogation. The mandatory ‘medical examination’ that the police claim was conducted seems utterly dubious. 
  • Another medical examination of accused in custody (under Section 54 CrPC) was finally carried out on 21 September. The examination reveals how workers are still suffering from the effects and pain trauma due to physical torture meted out in police custody over a month and half earlier. The medico-legal reports, now with the defense counsel, record the statements of brutal, humiliating torture that they were subjected to by the Gurgaon CIA. Workers have confirmed in the MLRs that they were stripped naked and beaten, and injured in the groin as their legs were stretched apart on both sides ‘beyond capacity’ for sustained periods of time. Some were submerged in dirty water for long duration, and rollers run over the thighs of others. The defense counsel had applied for a proper medical examination much earlier, and the same was permitted by the court. However the police caused significant and deliberate delay even after court permission was granted, causing marks and evidence of torture to be reduced.
  • Workers who were tortured as well as a large number of arrested have been made to sign on blank sheets of paper. They and their families fear that these will be misused to prove their participation in the crime. 
Conclusion and Demands
Firstly, public outrage at the 18 July incidents at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.’s Manesar plant stemmed from the killing of an HR manager and violent attack allegedly by an uncontrollable mob of workers. However, the police investigation into such a serious incident does not seem to be directed at solving the crime. Instead, it aims to ‘identify’ workers based not on their connection to the incidents and crimes recorded in the FIR but on their involvement in the union or overall assertiveness. The use of third degree torture in police custody, and the securing of arrestees’ signatures on blank papers by the police, gives rise to grave doubts regarding the ability of such an investigation in effectively identifying or arresting those guilty. The police and state seem keener to reassure Maruti Suzuki Ltd. and ensure that production continues. The trajectory of the investigation into the incident of 18 July exposes how it too is geared towards this end, and not at identifying the real accused or ensuring that justice is done. 
 
Secondly, severe violations of rights of the accused and arrestees characterize this police investigation. The guidelines in the DK Basu vs. State of West Bengal judgment (1996) and laws and conventions against custodial violence and torture have been consistently violated by the police in several instances. 
Therefore, PUDR demands that:
  • An independent and unbiased judicial enquiry be initiated into the events that led to the death of Awanish Dev. The judge nominated should be someone both parties are agreeable to. 
  • The police investigation should not be carried out by police officers who were involved and present during the incident as being done at present. An SIT be made comprising police drawn from other states (apart from Haryana, Delhi and Punjab) to investigate the incident of 18 July. 
  • The role of several hired bouncers that led to the precipitation of the events at the spot be investigated and a list made available. 
  • The Haryana police, responsible for custodial torture of arrestees, be identified and criminally prosecuted. Those responsible for harassment, illegal detention of family members of workers, and violations of legal guidelines of arrest must be identified and prosecuted. 
  • The safety and security of workers within the Manesar plant that reopened on 22 August with heavy deployment of security forces be ensured. The rights of workers at the plant, guaranteed in law and as Indian citizens, be maintained stringently.  
  • Re-instatement of all workers be ensured in the absence of definite evidence of their involvement emerges. 
  • The safety of family members of workers across Haryana be ensured.
 
Preeti Chauhan
Paramjeet Singh
Secretaries PUDR