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Gurugram: A week after he witnessed a young relative being lynched to death in Gurugram’s Sector 37, Sanjay (he goes by his first name), a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh, said he was anxious, unable to sleep and terrified.
“I will lose my mind if I have to live here. I feel so scared that I cannot sleep all night,” 30-year-old Sanjay said at his residence in an under-construction building in a lane inside the Kadipur industrial area in Gurugram. “Police investigators come in plainclothes to take me to record evidence. Residents and house owners here may not like my giving testimony against other local Haryana residents in the police investigation. I fear someone else may come claiming they are the police and fool me into accompanying them, and they will abduct and kill me. I am an outsider, after all.”
Sanjay lost two fingers on his right hand in a crush injury while working with a rubber manufacturing machine in Kadipur industrial area in Gurugram at the end of February and is now unable to use that hand.
He was still recovering from the grievous injury and looking for safer alternative employment in housekeeping in residential apartments nearby when he and his brother-in-law Anuj Kumar Gautam, a 21-year-old man who had come to the city to look for work from Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district the previous month, were abducted by a group of local men in a SUV around 1 pm on August 2. The men, who run a badminton academy in Gurugram’s Sector 37C, accused both of them of stalking and sexually harassing a 16-year-old student of the Heritage Badminton Academy.
They beat Gautam to death, and also hit Sanjay with sticks, rupturing the left side of his forehead, before locking him in a toilet. Sanjay’s right leg is swollen; he walks with a limp and has bruises all over his body.
Sanjay recounted that he had been without work for five months after the industrial accident, and had racked up debts. Chandan Kumar, a plumber from Bihar, who was an old neighbour, had recently got plumbing work at residential apartments near the industrial area and had called him to apply to a housekeeping job to help him pay back his debts. He said Gautam, a young relative who had worked for 15 days at an industrial unit in Kadipur, was on leave from work that day and had decided to go along him to switch to housekeeping work.
“That Monday, Chandan had called us near the apartment building. We had just reached the building gate when a big black car stopped in front of us. They were three men inside,” recounted Chandan. “They got out and started accusing me and Anuj of being thieves, goons. They started hitting us, and made us sit in the car saying we harassed girls. I begged and pleaded with them, ‘Look at my amputated hand’, I told them, still they would not listen.”
Sanjay added that the three men drove them to the Heritage Badminton Academy where 10-15 others had gathered. He continued: “When they stopped, I again tried to explain we were there for a job, we did not harass anybody. I gave them Chandan’s mobile that they could call him and establish what we were saying. They then called Chandan to the academy and thrashed him as well. I begged them with folded hands, but none of them listened or helped. The men who beat us are plot owners in the area. One of them said, ‘Today we will teach these Biharis.’ Another said, ‘They are poor men, let them go.’ Yet another said, ‘Let’s show them what we can do.'”
“They were saying, ‘You keep such hairstyle because you think you are very smart?’ If a labourer keeps his hair and beard a certain way, does that mean it is to assault women? They hit me with such intensity that they broke the nails of my hand. As I cried out, 10-15 persons gathered and watched as they hit me and Anuj. Two older men sat on the chair and watched. I begged them to make these men stop, but they would not stop them.”
Sanjay recounted that the badminton academy staff hit Anuj brutally and electrocuted him. “One man sat on Anuj’s head, and another tied his legs, and overturned him to make him lie on his stomach and hit him. Then, one of them said, ‘Electrocute him.’ At this, one of the men, whose name I later learnt is Binda, plugged wires into a switch board, and then he put the exposed wires on both of Anuj’s feet and gave him electric shocks. I watched Anuj’s body turn yellow. I kept crying, I felt terribly helpless.”
He said after this, the men locked him up in a toilet. “Later, when they released me, I came out and saw they had stacked Anuj’s unconscious body in a sitting position by the wall. They poured buckets of water on me and Anuj, and said to me, ‘Take your brother-in-law away.’ They had already killed him by then. I was crying. My forehead was bleeding. They had hit me with sticks on my legs and I could barely walk, how could I carry Anuj away? Similarly, they laid Chandan down a chair and took his family’s mobile number, and called his family, his parents and his sister who took him away.”
Sanjay said soon, the police arrived at the academy. They left him at the government hospital for medical treatment. He added, “My wife Heeravati came to the hospital. We felt terrified. At midnight, we quietly left the hospital as we were scared that the local men will kill us in the hospital.”
The police have arrested Manjeet, a manager at the sports academy, and Binda Prasad, a sanitation worker. They have charged “Manjeet, Puneet, Manish and 3-4 others” with killing Anuj Kumar Gautam in the first information report registered at Gurugram Sector 10 police station on August 2.
Gurugram officials have stated that they suspect this was a case of mistaken identity, that the teenage girl had mistaken the three workers for some others in the area who had harassed her just before the workers arrived at the site.
A week later, however, the police have filed a second FIR at Sector 10 police, on the basis of a complaint made to the police by the girl’s father claiming that he, Manjeet and Binda Prasad had in fact rescued the three workers from the mob. As per the Indian Express, the second FIR charges the deceased worker Anuj Kumar Gautam, Sanjay, Chandan Kumar and an unknown man named Rahul under Indian Penal Code Sections 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person), 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment), 506 (criminal intimidation), 341 (wrongful restraint), and 34 (common intention) as well as Sections 8 and 12 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The police have not made any arrests under this complaint yet, but the workers’ family said they were anxious of how the case against them proceeds.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) Preet Pal Sangwan told The Wire on August 14 that the police have not yet arrested anyone under this second FIR. He said, “Both claims will be investigated and we will proceed based on what evidence we find.”
Gurugram sports facility
On August 12, at the academy building in Gurugram’s Sector 37, staff said the academy coached 50 to 60 students in competitive badminton on the lines of the Pullela Gopinath Badminton Academy, a private badminton training facility in Hyderabad, for the last three years, though the numbers of students had reduced during the pandemic.
The parent of one of the trainees, who declined to be named, said the students were concerned as men on a motorcycle had stalked and tried to abduct one of the residential students when she was on her way to tuition classes. He said men riding motorbikes had tried to intimidate, harass and assault her in one of the empty plots here. “She had to enter a stranger’s residence nearby to protect herself. The men still continued to encircle the house,” he said. “She then called her father who alerted the academy staff who then went to look out for the men who had tried to assault the girl. But the media is ignoring the harassment that the girl faced which led to this incident.”
Manish Sharma, head coach at the academy for a year and a half, is one of the men named in the FIR number 0507 of August 2 for Anuj Gautam’s killing. He was detained and released by the police after questioning. Sharma said he was away when the student had complained and had arrived at the site later and had testified on what he had witnessed to the police.
“We cannot bear it anymore”
In Kadipur industrial area, one or two room industrial units where three to 10 workers operated machines lined both sides of a broken road. Hundreds of small-scale industrial units here make automobile components, spares, fasteners and brake parts as ancillary units and supply these to vendors of large automobile multinational corporations such as Maruti Suzuki India Limited and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Private Limited, located 15 km away in Industrial Model Town, Manesar.
On the third floor of a partially constructed building, Sanjay’s wife Heeravati sat at some distance from him with a pile of rubber items heaped in front of her on the floor, shaving off the pieces of rubber material with her fingers while Sanjay spoke. For every 1,000 pieces Heeravati manually cleans of excess rubber, the industrial units nearby pay Rs 25. The couple said they barely finish manually shaving 2,000 pieces this way to earn Rs 40-50 a day since Sanjay’s accident. “I cannot focus on anything, I feel anxious,” said Heeravati. “We had already not been able to pay rent for three months, and now this. After the grocery shop owner insisted we clear our months-old debts first, I came home and cried myself to sleep.”
Sanjay said the couple had come to Gurugram two years ago with their two sons from Udpur Gelwa village near Badlapur in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, over 750 km away. They belong to a Dalit caste, own no land and had worked on others’ farms and at local construction sites to support themselves in the village.
After reaching Gurgram in 2019 with a few family members who had worked there before, Sanjay said he had first worked at Supreme Enterprises in Kadipur, as a machine operator, in a power press unit making automobile parts for Maruti company’s vendors. He earned Rs 10,500 working eight-hour shifts till last July 2020, but since then he had faced one hardship after another, he said.
“Last year, I injured the top of my right index finger in the machine, and Heeravati felt that as operating power press is hazardous work, I ought to look for some other work.”
He had then joined a unit in lane 7 in Kadipur processing rubber sheets. He suffered an even more grievous injury in his new workplace soon after. “The rubber sheet manufacturing machine compresses sheets like you may have seen in sugarcane juice machines,” said Sanjay. “I was operating an old, used machine which the firm had bought at low cost. Its bearing broke, it fell on my hand and my fingers got crushed,” he described his February 28 accident in which he had lost two fingers.
Sanjay was employed without any written contract. He said his employer had got him admitted to a small private hospital in the neighbourhood and paid for his initial surgery and admission, but had refused to release two months of his wages and pay for any post-operative care. Sanjay had spent Rs 40,000 on the treatment for the crush injury at three private hospitals, borrowing from acquaintances.
His injuries on his right hand have not fully healed, his remaining two fingers are bent, and he needs a second surgery. He was still recovering from the amputation and the skin graft when he and Anuj Gautam were thrashed by the men in the academy on August 2, he said.
“With one thing going wrong after another, I feel like I am drowning in the Ganga river,” he said. “If people like come to a pradesh, an alien land, and get treated like this, how will the world go on? Kaise duniya chalegi? We acknowledge that we come here as there are fewer livelihood options where we come from. But if they start attacking us like this, how will the world go on? They bullied us because they had the arrogance of the moneyed.”
He said as he had been unable to work at all after the injury, a worker who also worked at the same unit had advised him to file a case in the labour court in Gurgaon to demand compensation. “I had filed a case in the Gurgaon district court hoping I will get some justice, some monetary compensation for my injuries. But when the first hearing came up on August 9, I could not even reach court as I was called for police for questioning in this criminal case instead.”
“All I wish for is to go home now,” he said.
Anumeha Yadav is an independent journalist reporting on labour and rural policy.