Look at their Eyes!

Editorial: August 2012

Hardnews Bureau Delhi

Author Khushwant Singh once recounted of a party that he attended in a Latin American country many years ago. As he was sharing a drink with a pretty young lady, his gaze shifted to a hillock overlooking the hacienda and he discovered many eyes staring at the party below. Out of curiosity, he asked the lady — whose eyes are these? Blandly, she dismissed his question with a wave of her hand, “Oh! They are our future killers.” 

That was a long time ago and in Latin America. Like a predictable cycle spread across distant geographies, history is repeating itself, both, as a nightmare and a tragedy. Disparity between the rich and poor has criminally widened. The corrupt, the criminal and the undeserving seem to be cornering all the wealth and fruits of the earth. And it has begun to rankle. 

The dark angry eyes of landless labourers, urban unemployed, destitutes and wretched of the earth that watched from a distance are closing in on all those who prospered by being unjust, avaricious and cruel. Shaking off the yoke of those oppressive codes that leave them impotent and fearful, they are asking for their rights, sometimes hitting out at what they perceive as the fundamental source of their infinite suffering. The recent happenings in the Maruti Suzuki factory that saw a senior manager killed and many injured is one example of how their anger is acquiring sudden, violent forms. 

This is no stray incident. As our ground zero investigative report from the swanky, profit-making industrial hub of Manesar suggests, the flare up was like an uncanny ‘Dark Knight Rises’ moment, where the underclass, underground in shadowy sewage tunnels, led by a masked man, overthrows an established order of “peace, prosperity and power”. 

In different parts of India, workers are up in arms against the anti-labour policies of managements that deepen their daily experiences of stark injustice and economic disparity. Growing awareness about how super rich companies have refused to share their whopping profits — made from their hard labour at low wages — hurts them more. Maruti Suzuki, for example, saw a 2,000 per cent increase in its profits since they began their operations in India. There are other companies that have made profit not from their core manufacturing activities but through arbitrage or engaging in real estate. For such companies, labour is a dispensable commodity.  

The classical woes of factory/sweat shop workers, largely contractual and surviving in sub-human conditions with no social security, are increased by mind-boggling inflation and heightened consumerism of an insensitive affluent society led by fat cats with unimaginable wealth. There seems little possibility of relief. A stumbling global economy, poor economic management, and a failing monsoon hold little promise for circumstances to change dramatically. And what would sound like bad news to the working class is the ritualistic exhortation from the chambers of commerce, billionaire businessmen and MNCs — to usher in intensified liberalisation, come what may. 

Usually, that means eliding any social protection for workers, suppressing them with extra-constitutional strong-arm tactics, and bringing in hire and fire policies. Armed with the knowledge of a fated slowdown, business houses have begun to legitimise the contract system, offload workers who join trade unions, and ‘trim’ their work force. This trend is likely to gather momentum as the full implications of a shrinking economy and a poor monsoon become transparent. 

And when that happens, there will be many more Dark Nights Rising in this artificially manufactured ‘India Shining’ — driven by the insatiable desires of corporates, backed by the political class, often with no principles, humanity or ethics.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2012