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2012 Maruti factory violence: Meet Sonu Gujjar, the man behind the strike

The trial lasted four years

Maruti Suzuki India

Akshat Kaushal & Sharmistha Mukherjee 

Sonu Gujjar, Maruti union, strike
Sonu Gujjar

A Gurgaon court in Haryana on Friday convicted 31 people and acquitted 117 others in the 2012 Maruti Suzuki factory violence case. Nearly 150 workers were arrested, of whom 117 were today found not guilty of charges including criminal conspiracy and murder. The quantum of punishment will be announced later today. 

Business Standard is republishing this 2012 article as a court in Gurgaon in Haryana on 10 March, 2017 convicted 31 workers for the violence at the Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar in 2012 in which a manager died of asphyxiation

After spearheading a five-month agitation that severely hit production at Maruti Suzuki, Sonu Gujjar, former president of the unrecognised Maruti Suzuki Employees Union, created a stir with his exit from the company last month. Detractors alleged he had received a substantial “full and final settlement” from the company in lieu of his resignation even before an agreement brought the labour unrest at Manesar to an end. In an interview with Akshat Kaushal and Sharmistha Mukherjee, the 25-year-old from Jhajjar explains what drove him to desert his 2,000-odd comrades. Edited excerpts.

After being the face of the Maruti strike for three months, you are now being labelled as a betrayer. There are allegations that you took money to leave. How do answer these accusations?
I read in the papers that I was accused of accepting a bribe of Rs 40 lakh. Is there any proof of that? No one contacted me to verify whether I got this money. I and my other comrades successfully led the strike at Maruti. Our demand was that Maruti should take back all the casual workers at the Manesar plant. That they have now done. The company has also reinstated 64 suspended workers, that too without a chargesheet. The strike was a success; how is this a betrayal?

If you won, why did you leave the company?
I was sure there was no way we could be reinstated. I am just a tenth pass. Do you think I would have stood a chance against the lawyers Maruti would have fielded when the inquiry against us began? All 30 of us had a choice of either accepting the company’s offer or facing inquiry, which we were sure of losing. We were hoping the trade unions would support us in our demand for reinstatement, but that did not happen. So, we took the money the company gave us, and exited.

If not Rs 40 lakh, what was the value of the settlement?
All 30 workers have received Rs 16 lakh each. This comprises our dearness allowance, provident fund and basic salary that we would have received if we had gone on to work at Maruti till turning 52. This is legitimate money that the company owed us.

Was there any pressure to reach an agreement?
There was no pressure from the company. But, people from nearby villages were pressuring us to end the strike. They were worried that their livelihood would be affected if Maruti moved out of Haryana. Pressure was also there from workers’ families.

What happens to the fate of the union, which was the cause of the unrest?
During the settlement, the company committed to approving a union at the factory. The management had then said the workers would be allowed to follow the usual process for registration and the company would not obstruct their way. I am not part of the company, but I still feel strongly for the union. I am also in touch with some workers.

Where do you go from here?
I will soon start looking for a job. I know it will be difficult. But then, what’s easy? My father is mentally-challenged. For now, I want to be with him for some time.

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First Published: Fri, March 10 2017. 13:55 IST