It was July 18, 2012. A routine day for Ram Niwas, a permanent worker at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, as he started his 3 pm shift on the Assembly Line section. News of a minor skirmish between another worker and a member of the management earlier in the day was being discussed in hushed tones. But later that evening, all hell broke loose as factory workers ran amok through the premises, rioting, and destroying factory property.
“I could hear the commotion in the other part of the factory. We were asked to vacate the premises by our supervisor,” says Niwas, who was assembling the dashboard of cars on the Assembly line as rioting broke out.
The rioting resulted in the death of Avnish Kumar Dev, the HR general manager of the Manesar plant. A subsequent FIR filed by a member of the Maruti Suzuki management named 147 workers and charged them with murder under the IPC. At least 500 workers were suspended without any notice and Niwas was among those sent on leave.
A 132-minute documentary by filmmaker Rahul Roy titled “The Factory”, shows the aftermath of that incident that was over within a few hours that evening. The documentary will be screened for the first time on May 30, at the India International Centre.
For more than two years since that day, 147 workers from the Maruti Suzuki plant were kept behind bars without bail or any chargesheet being presented to the defence counsel. The documentary features interviews with suspended workers like Niwas, lawyers from the defence team and also follows the court proceedings.
“On August 16, 2012, I received a termination notice. I was surprised since I was not even involved in the incident. When we started, we appealed for a judicial inquiry into the incident and redressal of the illegal termination of workers,” says Niwas.
Delhi-based Roy started following the case a year after the incident, in August 2013, after demands by workers for a judicial inquiry subsided. He approaches the documentary from the workers viewpoint, giving a glimpse into their lifestyle after the incident. “I was watching a TV discussion, a day after the incident. What was surprising was that there were a whole range of people on the panel but no workers and I found that odd,” says Roy, who has previously worked on films around the informal labour sector.
Though his narrative in The Factory is one-sided, Roy made several futile attempts to reach the Maruti Suzuki management. “For one-and-a-half years I tried to get access to the company. So what finally emerged is a result of doors being locked by the management,” adds Roy.