KOLKATA, India — An angry mob of Indian workers wielding iron rods and stones beat the CEO of a jute factory to death in a dispute over increasing their working hours, police said Monday after arresting six workers.
The suspects — two detained Monday and four on Sunday — are expected to be charged with murder, vandalism and other crimes allegedly committed when the mob of about 200 workers stormed the office of 60-year-old H.K. Maheswari in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, according to Hooghly District Police Superintendent Sunil Chowdhury.
Maheswari had denied their earlier request to work and be paid for 40 hours a week at the North Brook Jute Mill, instead of the current norm of 25. He had also proposed shutting down the mill for three days a week to limit mounting financial losses, according to the factory's general manager, Kiranjit Singh.
"The mill workers suddenly resorted to stone pelting while we were busy in a meeting," Kiranjit Singh said. At one point during Sunday's meeting, Maheswari looked out the window at the growing crowd and was struck in the head by two stones. He collapsed, at which point a large group of workers stormed the office, Singh said.
"The CEO was thrashed with iron rods, and he succumbed to his injuries very soon," Singh said. Both the general manager and a security guard were hospitalized for injuries and later released, while Maheswari died on the way to a hospital, police said.
West Bengal is known for its combative labor unions backed by political parties, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee immediately blamed the violence on unions run by opposition parties. The opposition denied any role in the attack, and said an independent investigation should be held before any blame is hurled.
On Monday, Banerjee sought to reassure the business community that her government did not tolerate union violence.
"There is no place for violence in a democracy," she said, while also telling members of the state assembly that a regular police investigation would suffice.
Meanwhile, work at the mill has been suspended indefinitely.
A funeral was planned for Tuesday for Maheswari, who is survived by his wife, two grown daughters and a son.