In the dilapidated, dirty and dingy villages hidden around the gigantic and sprawling post-modern structures of big capital and industry, the sad story of the workers and their miserable lives move in a vicious circle of inevitable destiny.
In Aliyar and Dhana urban villages near the Maruti plant in Manesar, amidst the squalor, open drainage, filth, flies, stink and garbage of these inner lanes, the one-brick architecture is ugly and depressing, with an assortment of empty, pathetic shops selling samosas, sweets, cold drinks, grocery, Chinese mobiles, fruit juice. There are few customers.
Trapped in a time warp, this grey ‘inner city’ is untouched by the flying wings of desire, profit and insatiable wealth which so transparently mark the opulent and swanky industrial hub of national and multinational capital in the neighbourhood. An orthodox, backward urban village suspended in time past, with not a single streak of green or earth, with little hovels and holes in the wall, and naked children gazing longingly at the sweets layered with layers of buzzing flies. In this ghetto hidden inside the intestines of the golden zone of big brand big business, even bottled water is from an unknown company called ‘Famous Life’. (Bisleri, Aquafina, Kinley, etc: shopkeepers have not even heard of them!) The contrast between the liberalised industrial hub and this feudal, backward urban ghetto is transparent and stark.
The upper caste landed ‘gentry’ have made huge profits by selling their land to big business groups. Some of them who sold their land for Rs 2.5 lakh for one acre a decade back are now complaining that they have been short-changed. There is one hour of electricity, no drainage or sewer system, no primary health centre, not even a college in the vicinity. Most kids and youngsters are uneducated, not interested in higher education, almost detached from the nuances or challenges of a changing modern economy. The place stinks of shit and garbage. And illiteracy.
In this time warp of stunning underdevelopment, where no villager has any link with agriculture or ecology anymore, the upper caste gentry is loaded with big bucks. The sarpanch of Aliyar, Ishwar Singh Chauhan, has a palatial house amidst this squalor and filth. They are also the profiteers of the new industrial boom directly benefiting them in a number of ways: this dilapidated urban village’s political economy runs with a lot of help from Maruti and other companies. They are landlords, shop owners, rent-seekers, profit makers, commission agents, contractors, middlemen all thrown in a money-making mix – though, they claim to be farmers.
On July 25, 100 ‘village’ panchayats passed a resolution saying that they want peace to be restored, the guilty to be punished, and that they stand with both the management and the workers. However, they had earlier taken a categorical pro-management position; this is because they are a crucial cog in the well-oiled wheel of exploitation of workers and miscellaneous benefits acquired due to the growth of the industrial hub. They are the beneficiaries, the workers are victims.
Not one of them is employed in the companies or in Maruti, to whom they sold their ancestral farm land. Companies don’t hire them because they fear their potential localised muscle and clout. They don’t have skills or desire to learn. Their inheritors and sons are all into subsidiary, parasitic businesses: contracts, transport, shops, rooms on rent, etc. The sarpanch’s sons, for instance, run a transport business— they also own the highly lucrative contracts of as many as 16 liquor shops, as the sarpanch himself informed Hardnews.
Amidst this primitive political economy in just two villages of Aliyar and Dhalla (there are 60 plus similar villages around), more than 5,000 workers live in horribly sub-human conditions, including a major chunk of Maruti workers. At the entrance of this dirty village surrounded by an expanse of rotting garbage which has collected over the years, lie rows of little, dark, deathly, suffocating cubicles in concrete with a tin door. Four workers share one room. They have to buy the electricity fan if they want one, they have to also pay the water bill. They all share one toilet, sometimes 30 plus sharing one toilet. They cook collective meals.
The room rent is Rs 3,000 or more, which they share. Remember, contract workers earn Rs 6,000/ month, though some permanent workers too live in these ghettos (Entry level apprentices earn about Rs 4,800). There are no housing facilities in the Maruti plant; nor do contract workers have any provident fund, gratuity, medical, educational or social security benefits. They work in the same premises with the permanent workers sharing the same work load. Permanent workers earn around Rs 17,000 to 20,000. As in Maruti, most factories choose to employ contract workers because they work as hard as anyone, have no rights or job security, and earn abysmally low salary.
In Aliyar there are huge concrete blocks with holes in the wall and little dark rooms where hundreds of workers are squeezed in. One concrete block had 500 workers, another had 200. Now, most of them are empty because the Maruti workers fled on the night of the July 18. Most of them are migrants from Haryana, UP and Bihar. Most of them ran from the plant after the fire. Locals say that they had no clue that an official had died in the plant. They packed their meagre belongings and fled. At least 40 of them did not run, they stayed back— so the village panchayat and pradhan promptly handed them over to the police.
“The police asked us to hand over the workers. What can we do? We got the workers arrested. These workers did not run away. They are innocent. The guilty must have escaped. Only the innocent got caught. The guilty are never caught,” said Ishwar Singh Chauhan, sarpanch, Aliyar village.
(The article was first published in the Hardnews)