Documentary channel

A new documentary brings the Maruti struggle alive through the stories of its arrested workers

Rahul Roy's latest film revisits the unionisation dispute that rocked the automobile company's plant in Manesar between 2011 and 2013.

One of the first things to be said about Rahul Roy’s new documentary The Factory is that it is two hours long. Nobody is more conscious of this fact than Roy. At a recent film screening in Delhi, Roy and the film’s editor, Reena Mohan, wondered how viewers were going to take the length. “I thought, God, what a bore, will people sit through it, but it seems to have gone down well,” Roy said.

The documentary’s running time is inextricably linked to its subject and narrative treatment. The Factory revisits one of the most contentious cases of industrial unrest in recent history: the face-off between workers and the management of the Maruti Suzuki automobile factory in Manesar in Haryana that started in 2011. Roy, who has also shot the documentary, started filming on July 18, 2013, exactly a year after the death of general manager of Human Resources, Avnish Kumar Dev, during a violent clash between workers and the management. The company alleged that Dev perished from beatings and suffocation after his floor caught fire, and 147 workers  were jailed on murder charges. The workers, who had been clashing with the management over their attempts form a union for several months, countered that Dev’s death was an excuse to frame them and demonise the union.

The affair, which is by no means over, is filled with dramatic moments. But in keeping with Roy’s longstanding interest in labour, capital and working-class lives and his quiet, observational approach, the film is a sober and rigorous account of the soul-destroying courtroom grind endured by the arrested workers on the inside and their families on the outside. (As of March, 79 workers had been granted bail, while 68 continue to be behind bars.)

“Given the nature and the scale of the issue, the fact that one is dealing with a history and the production part of it, and given the cases, there was no way I could have done justice to it all,” Roy said. “Ideally I would always want a shorter film. But the film needed a certain pace, it needed time to make various connections. Besides, how do you create a sense of the wait in real time, of people’s lives and the frustrations that build up.”

Roy began to shoot his film at a demonstration against Maruti to mark the first anniversary of the arrests in 2013 and ended the film exactly a year later in Gujarat, where the company hopes to shift the plant. “I actually started filming at a point when the movement was not at its peak,” said the 52 year-old filmmaker. “I filmed at a point when the movement was waning in terms of its public presence and the entire concentration was on the court cases.”

In between the endless waiting, the anxieties and agonies faced by the families of the incarcerated workers and the frustrations of the defence lawyers, Roy traces a short history of Maruti in India – its inception as a public-private joint venture with Suzuki holding the majority stake in 1982, its huge share of the car market until recently, and the establishment of the Manesar plant in 2007.

High targets usually result in a punishing shopfloor culture. In order to ensure that a finished car rolls off the assembly line every 50 seconds, the plant employs a mix of permanent and contract workers. In a telling sequence, a worker blandly details number of minutes allotted for tea and lunch breaks: seven for tea and 30 for lunch.



“The production process had to become a very important element,” Roy said. “That was a huge challenge, since I didn’t have access to the management. How do you create a narrative around the production process without putting people to sleep?”

The fact that the Maruti management obdurately refused to talk to Roy or give him permission to shoot inside the plant also influenced the narrative. The Factory is seen through the eyes of the workers and their supporters. There is no attempt to establish equivalence by seeking the other side of the story. Maruti’s views on the matter come through in indirect ways: through a presentation that plays out on a giant screen as dancers writhe before it in silhouette, media reports and the legal representations made by the company. Maruti appears in the film as a malevolent presence that instituted an unhealthy work culture to ensure profit at all costs, actively blocked the workers’ legitimate demands to allow them to form a union, and influenced villagers living near the plant through corporate social responsibility programmes into providing them with muscle power when the workers went on strike.

“In the larger sense, what is fairly clear is that there is almost a nexus between the state and corporations coming together,” Roy said. “For instance, why did the state appoint KPS Tulsi as the public prosecutor for what is essentially a murder trial?” The erstwhile Congress Party government in Haryana paid Tulsi Rs 5.5 crore for his appearance. He was replaced in December by a team of 85 state lawyers.

Tulsi and the rest of the prosecution team are another invisible entity in a film that sticks close with its subjects, filming the arrested workers as they arrive at or leave the court premises, interviewing their lawyers, and spending time with their families.

“Where you place the camera reveals a lot about the film and filmmaker,” Roy explained. “I very consciously decided that the camera would always be on one side. It would look at the workers’ angle, not in terms of becoming a PR job, but becoming observant to how they are dealing with the issues.” The documentary

The Factory is one of the several films funded by the Justice Project, which examines political, social and economic conflicts across the subcontinent.

Filmmakers and researchers in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have produced films as well as academic studies on such varied subjects as the Ayodha mosque dispute, the death of garment workers in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, and post-civil war compensation in Sri Lanka. The Factory and other films as well as the research papers ewill be presented at a seminar in Colombo in early June, and a similar event will be held in Delhi in July.

Sweat and blood

The Factory is in the same mould as the landmark 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple’s exhaustive account of a lengthy and complicated strike by coal mine workers in Kentucky in 1973. Kopple spent a few years with the workers and their families and captured the crests and troughs of the movement. Some of Harlan County, USA’s most stirring sequences are of the solidarity and courage displayed by the mine workers and their families, who battle violence, litigation and changes within the union with utmost clarity about their basic rights and their unquestionable contributions to their employer’s bottomline.

The Factory  also has several stories of fortitude and courage displayed by the workers, many of whom are products of Industrial Training Institutes and have a well-defined sense of what is due to them. Roy has previously examined working-class lives in his films Majma, When Four Friends Meet and The City Beautiful, but he has mostly been engaged with the informal sector, such as handloom weavers in The City Beautiful. “Labour has been an abiding interest, so there is a continuum with my previous films, but I have always worked with unorganised labour,” said Roy, who graduated from the Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi in 1987 and was a part of the generation of documentarians who worked on video and investigated the economic and social divisions that opened up in India after the Emergency. “This was the first time I was working with organised labour, but it was a very different class of labour. The big issue in the Maruti case was about dignity – the workers felt stripped of their dignity all the time. They displayed tremendous intellectual rigour and political acumen. These are not workers who are going to take things lying down – they are educated, they are on Facebook and they use smartphones – and this is something the Indian industry has to face.”

In some cases, neither a degree nor a Facebook account is needed to arrive at the realisation that big business can be the cause of unrest rather than progress. The Factory begins in Haryana and ends up in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, where Maruti has been allotted land to set up a plant. The farmers whose land is being acquired for the project are most unhappy at Maruti’s sudden appearance on their horizon, and they declare their opposition to the project. Visuals of row upon row of cars waiting to leave the parking lot give way to lines of cows ambling over land that might, some day, become yet another battleground between the forces of profit and the human beings who are supposed to deliver it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.