The Maruti Factory Violence - A Local or National issue?

Alok Kejriwal

I'm shocked, just shocked to come to terms with this news clip. It has been extensively doing the rounds and each time I see it, I'm deeply saddened:

'A manager at top car maker Maruti burned to death in India's worst industrial violence in recent memory because he was unable to flee after rioters broke his legs, police said Friday.

The grim account emerged as output at Japanese-owned Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant near New Delhi remained halted following Wednesday's riot in which nearly 100 executives were hurt when workers chased them with bars and torched offices.

The body of the plant's human resources manager, Awanish Kumar Dev, found charred beyond recognition in a burned-out conference room, was identified by a tooth implant, police said as they issued fresh details about the violence.

"He had no chance of escape, his attackers broke his legs so he was trapped inside," deputy police commissioner Maheshwar Dayal told AFP.'

News and Image courtesy -

The manager's legs were broken and he was burnt to death???

Is this for real?

First of all, our deepest condolences to the family of Awanish Kumar Dev. He died a martyr while serving his country and his Company. May he rest in peace.

The question I ask is - is this kind of 'insanity' something Local or National?

- Factories in Mumbai

I worked in my father's factory for 12 years. This factory was located in the heart of the Mills area in Central-South Mumbai near Parel:

The factory was established in 1967 or so and has seen its complete share of trade unions, Datta Samant interference, Shiv Sena's militant trade leaders, etc.

At peak, the business operated with 400 workers working 24 hours across 3 shifts in 5 floors measuring about 6000 sq. feet each.

In my 12 years of working on the shop floor, I would never IMAGINE that I could be KILLED in my own factory ... burnt to death.

- There was always a, "you are the 'seth' (owner), we are the workers" mentality.

Once I went to a worker's wedding reception. He was someone I used to work with very closely on the shop floor. My father did not stop me from going to the reception but just said, "Alok, keep your distance."

The next month the same worker led a major 'go slow' movement in my exports packing department that led to my orders being considerably delayed. The goods had to be air-shipped - resulting in the loss of many lacs of rupees.

I kept my distance from this person.

- People get influenced.

I had gone to Italy to train on a very expensive CAD/CAM socks knitting machine that my father and I identified as a logical expansion to our business.

After training on it, I returned and soon began operating it closely with a worker who was a bright young man and intuitively 'tuned' into electronics even though he had not studied much.

Over the next 8 months, we produced a brand new range of products that took the market by storm!

This worker and I became the 'factory heroes'. We had everything going for us.

One day, after another exhilarating day of product innovations, R&D and trials, the shift ended at 3:30 pm and the worker exited the factory. I stepped out at 3:40 pm to cross over to the other building to my Dad's office.

What shocked me was to see the same worker along with about 20 other workers shouting the meanest and most demeaning slogans about the factory, the business and my dad!

I was shell shocked. I could not reconcile the fact that this was the same person... I mean, how could anyone go from love to hate in 5 minutes?

Having said this, the real shocker was still to come.

The next day, the same worker worked with me exactly like we had worked together the day before!!! In complete harmony and with the same warmth and spirit of utmost dedication!

And sure enough, post 3:45 pm, he was outside with the usual gang shouting slogans!

This good-bad attitude business continued for about 2 months, until the movement died out.

My personal belief is that he was heavily influenced by the old, disgruntled worker gang that marched and screamed slogans each year during Diwali (Hindu new year) for bonus negotiations, etc.

This lesson taught me that people do get influenced, sometimes beyond their own comprehension!

- Getting 'cabin locked'

Once I remember, while I was with my Dad in his cabin, workers seized the opportunity and gheraoed (surrounded) the cabin to block us from coming out till we agreed to some ridiculous bonus amount!

We chilled, kept chatting and reading magazines inside.

That also sent a message that these guys 'don't care'.

A couple of hours later, I felt like going to the Toilet.

My dad asked me, "What will you do if they stop you?"

Without hesitating I said, "If they stop me, I will piss there in front of them!"

I pushed the door open gently and began to walk towards the bathroom. No one said anything. I came back and then a few minutes later my Dad went to the bathroom. There was no problem.

An hour later, we just went home. Without being stopped.

This episode taught me that workers take you to the limit of tolerance, but they have a breaking point too.

Having said all this, the Maruti incident is way Out of Control.

I wonder if this is a local (Manesar) or national issue?

- I was going to post that this could not have happened in Mumbai or in Maharashtra.

But I remembered how hooligans in Thane destroyed a World Class Hospital of Raymond India that was built to serve workers and the poor, just because someone of their community died of a heart attack there!

This CAN happen in Maharashtra.

- Narendra Modi of Gujarat is gunning to move the Maruti Factory to his state.

But can anyone forget the Godhra and the Gujarat riots? Anything can happen in Gujarat too.

I believe this is a National Problem and these are the symptoms:

- Most of the 'labor' is uneducated, young and highly influenced by their illiterate elders and irrational trade leaders.

In China, workers could never do this because they would be shot dead.

In India, the deadly cocktail of unemployment, illiteracy, availability of low paying temporary factory jobs and no formal training make such incidents happen all the time.

- The Government's role

In Mumbai, I can assure you that the Police would have arrived at the scene of such a major incident aka the Maruti factory and hopefully prevented from Awanish from dying.

What was the Police of Haryana doing? Were they farming their fields? Or were they busy getting drunk? Are you telling me that such a massive criminal act that manifested itself for many hours, remained unnoticed?

I have carefully observed the Police Force in Delhi and in the areas around Gurgaon. I have heard how they speak to poor people, to women and got a vibe of the power they exert on the weak.

To me, THEY resemble full blown Criminals in Khakhi uniforms.

So, how can we expect Criminals to stop Criminals?

- What works in Japan or Germany DOES NOT work in India.

I got a hint that the Japanese Directors running Maruti were expecting Japanese styled efficiency (?) and work discipline from Indian workers.

Well, India is NOT Japan. We are our own country.

When I was training in Italy to make socks, I was taken for a factory visit.

When we walked into the production floor, I saw long rows of machines but no human operators. The machines were all humming.

I was stunned!

In my father's factory, one worker operated 4 machines. Here I counted at least 50 machines running. Where were the workers?

Suddenly, a machine on my right stopped and the statutory red light lit up. And lo and behold, from the far end of the room, a petite girl ON ROLLER SKATES came right up to the machine, fixed the twisted yarn, banged the Green Start button and then smiled at me...!

I asked her how many machines she operated.

"40" she said. "Both these rows of 20 machines are mine."

I asked her her salary. "US$ 1000", she told me before gliding away to another machine.

My head was spinning. I did the math quickly. In my dad's factory, each worker got Rs. 4000 (this is 1994). 10 workers were required to operate 40 machines. That means a salary of Rs. 40,000.

This girl costed 1000$ = Rs. 40,000 (I visited in 1997) and this was Italy!! This meant there was NO labor arbitrage between India and the 'expensive' west!

She was 10x more efficient than my father's workers and did not shout anti-management slogans.

She was the real worker.

Now, could I have come back and forced my factory workers to wear roller skates?

They would have broken my feet had I insisted!

To summarize, India is not an easy country to achieve anything. Even living here is a challenge. There is 'no quiet life'. We have too many people, too many agendas and too many vested interests. I think we are 'over democratized'. We think too much. We do little. We don't value life as much as we should. We burn our brides and daughters. We don't let people live they way they want. We have 1000+ Gods. We just have too many ideas, beliefs and views...


We are India. We are free. We are the world's greatest Democracy. We are young. We are super intelligent.

We will learn.

I bow to the family of Awanish Kumar Dev and beg for forgiveness on behalf of those who killed him. I salute Awanish who achieved immortality, doing what we seldom to - his duty and his best.

If you are reading this, please close your eyes for a minute and pray for Awanish and his family.

Help us God. God, please help India.

Alok blogs at