India

Why makers of iconic Ambassador car have lost faith in India

Hindustan Motors/ Anup Kumar Singh Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption The factory where the car used to be manufactured is still home to 1,000 workers and their families

Hindustan Motors was once India's largest car manufacturer, and its iconic Ambassador car, modelled after the British Morris Oxford, was a national icon.

The production of the Ambassador was, however, suspended in May 2014 due to weak demand and finance issues. But the factory where the car used to be manufactured, just outside Kolkata (Calcutta) in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, is still home to more than 1,000 auto workers who were laid off.

They say they have not received their dues from Hindustan Motors, complain that they live in "inhuman conditions" and have called for a "vote boycott" during the ongoing state assembly elections. The area votes on 30 April.

Photographer Ronny Sen meets some of the workers and documents their stories.


'Elections will not happen here'

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Sima Rai (left) lives on the factory premises with husband 40-year-old Munshi Rai and their four children.

"We don't have money to do anything. I can't afford to cook on gas anymore so I use a wooden stove now. My husband used to work in the factory and is looking for jobs. No one is giving him any work.

"He is working as a car driver right now. We have no hopes from any political party and we will see to it that the elections don't happen here in our area."


'Elections make no sense to us'

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Birender Singh joined Hindustan Motors in 1986 and worked there until the production was suspended.

"The situation is very difficult here, the factory is shut and there is no production. I am trying to get some work from outside and somehow manage. I have a child who is studying in school.

"We can't sleep inside the house in this scorching summer, so we sleep outside. We haven't received support from anyone for the past two years. We have boycotted the elections this year. It doesn't make any sense to us at all."


'No one helped us'

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Om Prakash Giri, now 52, joined Hindustan Motors as a welder in 1988 and worked there until production of the Ambassador was suspended.

He was paid a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees ($180; £126) on which he would support his six-member family, but now finds it hard to get work.

"All of us have called for a complete boycott of the upcoming state elections. Even people who have left these quarters due to a lack of water and electricity will not vote. We have approached the government so many times and tried everything we could.

"Not even the trade unions or political parties have helped us so far."


'We run like dogs for water'

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Sharda Devi Sharma's husband Nandalal Sharma was a welder with Hindustan Motors and the sole breadwinner of his family.

"If they don't help us and give us these basic rights to survive, then what's the point of this election? Why should we vote? When the tankers come we have to run like dogs for water. We don't have money to maintain these quarters. We have to travel almost 3km (1.8 miles) to fetch water.

"Even a beggar on the street has a better life than us," she said.


'I gave them my youth'

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Nirmal Kumar Ram, who worked at the factory's engine plant, says he has not yet left his job because Hindustan Motors has still not told workers that they were fired.

"I am supporting the election boycott call because who should we vote for? No one cares about us. There is no rule of law. Everyone has turned a blind eye towards us. How will a family with a seven-month-old baby live without water and electricity?"

Mr Ram feels abandoned by the company.

"I have seven family members to feed. I gave all my youth to this factory, where should I go now in this age?" he asks.


Ghost town

Image copyright Ronny Sen

Debasish Mitra used to work in the quality control department at Hindustan Motors. His wife Dolly Mitra was part of the nursing staff there and both of them have received suspension of work notices.

"They have created a situation where we are forced to leave the quarters. The entire civic structure is paralysed so that people run away from this colony. If they can manage to do this, they will win this fight. This is turning into a ghost town where living conditions are unthinkable.

"Earlier, our children's schooling was subsidised, but now they have increased the school fees three times. How can anyone afford this?" he asks.

"Even before production stopped, I didn't get my salary for six months. After the sun goes down, the whole area gets dark. All the power lines are cut. All of us have called for a vote boycott in the upcoming state elections."


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