At around 6 am on 12 October, Ravinder Singh, a 56-year-old former employee of the Hindustan Times Limited, was found dead in a small tent outside the newspaper’s office building in Connaught Place, in Delhi. Singh was a former printing press worker at the Hindustan Times, whose services, along with those of 361 others, were terminated on 3 October 2004. Since then, Singh and other former workers—who are members of the Hindustan Times Employees Union—have been protesting their termination outside the office building. Members of the union told me that Singh worked at the Hindustan Times from 1980 till 2004.
Akhilesh Rai, a member of the union, told me that some protestors went to wake Singh up that morning and alerted the police upon discovering his body, which was then taken to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital. A police officer at the Barakhamba Road police station, who asked not to be identified, told me that the police are still waiting for a member of Singh’s family to release his body and conduct the post-mortem. Shatrugan Singh, another member of the union whom I met at the protest site, said, “I do not think any of his family members are around anymore, why else would he be staying here and not with them?” He continued, “The rest of us have been protesting since 2004 too, but by the grace of god we are fortunate that we still have families to go back to.”
Akhilesh said that Singh was among few protestors “who still believed that a combination of legal recourse and protest would lead to things changing.” But he added, “He was doing worse than the rest of us, that is for sure.” According to Akhilesh, Singh’s mental health had deteriorated since his termination. Ramesh Negi, a union member who worked at the Hindustan Times from 1978 to 2004, appeared to agree with Akhilesh. “The rest of us come here on some days in groups no larger than 50 to continue our protest,” Negi said. “He was, however, the only one that used to stay here even in the night—more often than not, he would sleep here.”
In 2004, Hindustan Times Limited had terminated the employment of the protesting workers of its printing-press staff when the company transferred the ownership of its printing undertaking to HT Media Limited. “We had a holiday for Gandhi Jayanti and on the day we returned to work, there was a notice that said we would no longer be employees,” Akhilesh said. “Just like that, we were removed from jobs that were paying us a consistent salary of at least Rs 18,000 a month,” he continued. Negi told me that on the day that the company terminated the workers, bouncers and police officials came to manhandle them and see to it that they did not protest. “The termination itself was unjust and to add to that, they used force to prevent us even from protesting,” he added.
That year, the workers challenged their termination in a Delhi industrial tribunal that adjudicates on labour disputes. In 2012, the tribunal held that the termination of services of the workers was “illegal and unjustified.” The court directed the company to “reinstate 272 workmen,” although it did not direct the company to pay the employees back wages for the period between 2004 and 2012. The subsequent year, the union workers approached the Delhi High Court seeking the payment of back wages, which was allowed by a single judge of the court in 2014. However, in an appeal by the company to a division bench of the high court, the court set aside the direction for back wages. In 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal challenging the division-bench judgment.