On 19 February, while the Jat reservation stir was tearing Haryana apart, over 8,000 workers were marching towards Gurgaon. This 7-km long march stopped at Honda Motors headquarters. The Honda management were evidently expecting them, as the garden in front of the office had welcome treat for these workers — a wet ground. They sat there through the night.
The ordeal continued on the following day and next night. The management remained indifferent. Considering Section 144 imposed to due to Jat stir and court order brought by the Honda management, which asked the workers to remain 500 meters away from Honda premises, the workers called off their dharna on 21 February. Why were they sitting on dharna in such unfavourable conditions— with no media coverage as it was preoccupied with developments in JNU campus and Jat stir?
The story goes back to 16 February and the brutal attack on hundreds of workers of Honda Motorcycles and Scooter Pvt Ltd India (HMSI) factory at Tapukara, popularly known as 2F. “Shift ke dauran char-paanch contract workers ko pita gaya tha (Four to five contractual workers were beaten by managers during the first shift),” says Dilip who works as a Line Associate with Honda’s 2F.
He was waiting for his shift to start at 3:30 in the noon, which never happened. The workers of the first shift were locked inside the company premises and no one was allowed to enter or exit the doors. “While the workers inside the campus were angry over the news of physical assault with co-workers, we who were waiting outside were clueless of developments. 300 bouncers were called and police too reached the venue,” says Dilip who is one of the 467 permanent employees at 2F. Besides permanent workers, there are 3,500 temporary workers, 75 percent of which are graduates.
“Our leaders like Naresh Mehta, Surender Singh and others went to meet the management. Till 7:30 pm, there was no information. And then all hell broke loose! Over 2,000 present inside the campus were lathicharged, bouncers who were in workers uniform thrashed anyone they could lay their hands on.”
Many were rushed to hospital while several others were dragged to police station. Dhananjay Bhole, one of the injured workers, says, “We were standing with our fellow workers peacefully. Despite this police lathicharged. My leg is fractured.” The physical assault culminated in an atmosphere of panic and terror. The police started hounding the localities where Honda workers live.
“Police was hunting us like we were prey. They threatened people, arrested workers from homes and several others who were identified on the road,” says Tapas Kumar, a BSC graduate from Orissa, who also works as a Line Associate. “Fifty eight of us were arrested and were allowed to go only in the evening, that too when we paid money.”
The leaders who went to meet the management on 16 February, were later found to be in police custody. The sources say that Narendra Mehta, who is leader of the proposed union of HMSI 2F, was physically assaulted and false charges were slapped against him.
HMSI union body is in fix as they are not being allowed to even sit on dharna in Rajasthan. “They have denied space for organising protest,” says general secretary Surender Kumar. He says that no one from management has communicated with them.
Instead, to break their morale, HMSI management has started to retaliate against them. “They have started sending suspension letters to workers. Some of the letters cite reasons like ‘sitting on illegal strike’ and while others quote ‘damaging property’ of company,” says Kumar who has been working in Honda 2F for the past five years. The charges slapped on 44 of these workers, who are in jail, include attempt to murder, rioting, extortion and stopping a public servant from discharging his duty.