The strike at the Honda factory in Gurgaon is big on the news in India these days (The Hindu, BBC). Trouble has been simmering in the Honda factory for eight months, and finally things came to a head when workers demonstrated and were brutally beaten by the police. Part of the reason this is being discussed so avidly, is because the violence is being seen by people across the country via television. The images may be new, but the violence isn’t. I have actually seen the police doing traffic control in Varanasi by whipping the legs of the riksha-wallahs as they pass by. When I lived all the way across the Jamuna in East Delhi, I would see migrant labourers going to their shanty towns far away from the city on the back of a truck. When they passed the thana, the truck would stop and a few women would invariably get off to sexually service the policemen. It wasn’t something that I just heard about, I would actually see it from the window of the bus as I returned home.
Going back to the Gurgaon strike, The Telegraph has a timeline of how the events unfolded (on the left). The violence has gone beyond the the striking workers. Many of the workers were arrested, some had to go to hospital, their family members and co-workers didn’t know where they were and seem to have agitated which seems to have resulted in further violence (Photo below, from the Hindu). The lawyer who is working on behalf of the workers was arrested and beaten up by the police, and the lawyers will be striking tomorrow.
From a sampling of the papers, the narrative generally is: this is bad for India’s image, and this could discourage MNCs from making Gurgaon their home. There is much talk of how India’s labour laws need to be “flexible.” Which seems to be a thinly disguised word for a subdued and docile workforce (Singapore seems to be everybody’s dream). Nobody can deny that India’s archaic and contradictory labor laws need to be overhauled. However, the need for democratic protections for the workforce are very coyly suggested somewhere deep in these articles, if at all. Very few have remarked on how disturbing it is, that an arm of a democratically elected government would brutally attack an unarmed citizenry, on behalf of a corporate entity. This has also proved to be a great boon to the political parties, the Left as well as the BJP, who are calling for further strikes, the dismissal of the Haryana government etc. which is just hypocritical, they can hardly be said to be the friends of the working class or the poor.