The big BUTs

Jul 29, 2012, 06:05 IST | Paromita Vohra

BUT it's wrong to kill. BUT killing cannot be excused.

BUT it’s wrong to kill. BUT killing cannot be excused. If I had Rs 100 for each BUT uttered — on the news, on Facebook, or in a personal discussion about the incident at Maruti’s Manesar plant, I might have me a down payment on that new car.

Who had even said that killing was right?  But those thrusting ‘BUTs…’ drowned out any discussion of the context wherein the violence might have occurred. What are those BUTs about? They’re a means to select one part of the story and make it the whole, deciding that it is the only significant point, and that your moral outrage allows you to declare irrelevant all other elements of the story of which the violence is a part.

How is it unimportant to ask why workers suddenly turned violent when they had carried out sustained non-violent protests through 2011? How is it not relevant to note that this incident, although presented as an isolated one by the mainstream media, really needs to be seen as part of a series where such tensions have constantly exploded in the National Capital Region over the last few years, starting with the Honda Motors affair in 2005?

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

It’s as if by decreeing that you abhor violence, you can place yourself outside and above a story that all Indians today are a part of, whether blithely or uncomfortably. Some of whom who are quite ok with violence, when it means one of our soldiers kills someone else’s soldiers, by the way.

How do these neo-Gandhians define violence? Is it violence that, while MSIL profits after taxes have increased by 2,200 per cent since 2001, (according to researchers Prasenjit Bose and Sourindra Ghosh), workers’ yearly earnings have increased by 5.5 per cent alongside a consumer price index that went up by over 50 per cent?

In 2010, an unexpected rise in bookings led the Manesar plant to increase “efficiency” without expanding infrastructure. This meant hiring a larger number of contract workers who worked alongside regular workers for less than half the pay — just Rs 7,000 per month to be precise — while “in an eight-hour work shift, workers get a 30-minute lunch break and two 7.5-minute tea and toilet breaks.” Extra bathroom breaks were usually denied because the two breaks were “designed to be just enough” according to a management statement. Just enough for whom? So, is this violence?

Managements routinely collude with governments to quash workers’ attempts to form unions of their choice — people justify this as the imperatives of profit making. Workers die in factories and on film sets all the time due to casually unsafe working conditions. Would this count as killing? Or it’s just direct killing that’s wrong while being the indirect cause of death is A-ok?

On a news show, one anchor interrupted a guest raising such points with — “we’re not here to judge corporates.” Oh? Are corporates not to be held accountable to labour laws? What absolves them from reflecting on their relations with the workforce?

BUT these become “finer points” for 2- minute news segments. And somehow, such political dimensions are ‘too much’ even when it’s a 90-minute social issue show because ‘the public won’t accept it.’

What won’t the public accept? That the working classes have the same right to aspiration as middle class folk? That the upward mobility of some populations may involve the systemic suppression of other populations? That the new economy kind of needs some nice old-fashioned feudalism to prosper? These are uneasy truths. We may be living with them for now. But let’s not stop living with them uneasily. 

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

Go to top