Hundreds of workers at India’s largest automobile manufacturing company Maruti Suzuki are on trial for the murder of a senior manager and thousands workers dismissed. The case has already dragged on for two and a half years, with defense lawyers planning strategies in the court canteen. Their bail application has been rejected. When the workers are led to the courtroom on each hearing, their families line up for the only chance of seeing them.
That is a brief teaser of “The Factory,” a film by the Indian documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy, which is going to be screened in Rocky 200 on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. The filmmaker, who is currently going around the United States on tour to show his film, will be visiting Vassar and attending the event.
Professor of English Amitava Kumar, is one of the chief organizers of this event. Talking about the intentions and purpose of the film screening, he addresses the issue of workers’ rights in a global context.
“The film will give a human face to globalization. It will introduce students to politics as the lived experience of workers. It will also show that notions like ‘development’ or ‘industrial growth’ are in reality contested terms, with workers paying with their blood for their rights.”
Along with the English Department and the Political Science Department, the South Asian Student Alliance (SASA) is also sponsoring the event.
A member of SASA, Richa Gautam ’16, an international student from India, added to the discussion of this social issue, “Workers’ rights in India are not too great (are they anywhere?). A lot of global companies outsource their manual labour to India, and even when in Indian enterprises the situation of lower class workers is not really that great. The class of workers also intersects largely with lower castes, which adds to the problem of rights violation. The judicial process is long-drawn and expensive and therefore hard to afford,” Gautam wrote in an emailed statement.
Daniel Doctor ’16, another student coordinator of “The Factory” film screening, agreed, “I think everyone involved hopes that the documentary serves as an example of how we are so separated from the rights of workers who are oppressed by governing corporate bodies. Although many may think that development leads to a brighter future, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is shared by everyone.”
As the event flyer introduces, Roy completed his masters in Film and TV production from the Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi in 1987. Since then, Roy has been working as an independent documentary film maker. Having been internationally screened, his award-winning work has focused on communalism, labor and masculinities.
In addition to filmmaking, Roy has explored masculinity in his research and writing. His graphic book on the topic titled “A Little Book on Men” was recently published by Yoda Press, an independent publishing venture based in New Delhi.
Kumar elaborated on his reasons for inviting a filmmaker like Roy, “I am an admirer of Rahul Roy’s films. His films demonstrate the value of documentaries where the artist is working as an immersive journalist–a journalist immersed, sometimes for years, in the lives of the people that he or she is portraying.”
He continued, “I read that he was on a tour of the US and screening his films at the Brecht Forum in New York City, and sent him an invite.”
While making the documentary, Rahul Roy faced resistance from the factory in question, Maruti Suzuki. The Indian online magazine Scroll.In publicized a slice of its behind-the-scene story, “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.”
The Scroll.In article continued, “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 an interview with Scroll.In, Roy commented on his experience of making the film, “Labour has been an abiding interest, so there is a continuum with my previous films, but I have always worked with unorganised labour.”
The director went on, pointing to his observation about the workers: “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.”
Looking forward to the screening and sharing her own expectation of its effect, Gautam said, “We hope that the audience will gain a more informed and global perspective on labour rights.”