Day four: At Saket labour court

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On Thursday, by 11 am, Mannu was at Pushp Bhawan gate. It was the second conciliation hearing of his case.
He climbed a floor up the staircase, and joined the queue in front of the Assistant Labour Commissioner office. More people came up slowly, cutting through the queue to trace where their names and turns figured on the cause list.
Mannu’s case against Ikai, a textile designer store where he had worked for four years, was eighth that day in a list of 51. Fashion, media studies, hotels, several other establishments were on the lists.
It was getting crowded but the queues also moved up quickly. One by one the names were called out. Very quickly each person came out. In each case, the employers had not turned up. The worker who was had complained was assigned by the conciliation office to come at a date a month from that day.
After another at least 45 days passed this way in dates, the labour conciliation office would consider sending the case ahead to a labour court in Dwarka.
“This is faltu, meaningless,” Mannu scoffed and laughed, as he waited. “The employers don’t turn up, and this office exercises no powers to make them even send a representative. The dates go on and on, there is no point to this.”

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A middle-aged trade unionist, was also there. He had come there as office routine. Several of the Okhla industrial case landed at Pushp Bhawan. He consulted a man who had worked in a paints factory and filed a case against the firm for not paying minimum wages. Then he came towards Mannu and enquired into the case status.
The union functionary did not outrightly describe the process as useless, but he too said that nothing ever happened. Did the labour commissioner office not have any powers, or did they choose to not do anything? “They won’t do anything. They won’t do anything till a thousand workers assembled here and they felt the pressure from them,” he continued. “But the workers won’t come I think because they have job insecurities.”
He took the papers Mannu had in his hand and looked at them. The application had been written by the unionist’s boss, the district head, a medical doctor who met both patients and retrenched workers at his evening clinic. He asked a few questions from Mannu, when had he put in the request, was the last hearing last month.
“Namber Aath, Mannnu..!”
Soon, the labour commissioner’s assistant called out. Mannu made his way with ease, he knew the space and the routine so well by now. It moved even more quickly now. The tall labour official who towered over everyone even while he was seated did not look up even once at who had come in. There were three empty chairs in front of him. His assistant, a woman to his right of the desk, looked up. After confirming no one had turned up from the company for reconciliation with the worker, she quickly scribbled a next date, “11 June, next month now,”, she said, passing the paper she had scribbled on to Mannu to sign on and accept the next date.
Mannu was out of there in less than a minute.
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On a bench on the tea stall outside the court complex, Mannu was quieter than he had been when he had gone inside. “This place makes one feel very frustrated. It is like it is designed to break one’s spirit instead of helping it.”
It is better when I go outside the factory gate last three days with a cardboard protest. Here at least 3-4 workers stop by and ask what happened, my former colleagues come and shake hands with me when they see me there.
Here it is isolating. Pointless.”
He laughed at the unionist’s suggestion. “If 1,000 workers gathered, why would they come here or to the union office at all. They would then resolve the issues as they thought fit.”
“But I don’t tell the union about my gatta protest. When I mentioned it, the district head said “Mannu, you are always interested in bujhdil, cowardly, protests. A worker’s fight takes long patience, he told me. I seem to lack that, he said.”

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