“They came with iron rods, chains, furniture, car parts… anything that they could use to hit us,” says CS Raju, the vice-president of human resources, recalling the July 18 nightmare at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar Plant, which left one dead and 96 injured.
The immediate reactions were shock, disbelief and confusion among those who experienced the trauma. “There were bloodied people everywhere. Everything was broken or on fire,” recalls CK Mehta (name changed), 51, who is part of the production unit at Manesar. Mehta was in the intensive care unit for three days and the private room for one day before being declared stable enough to go home.
Eight days later, the violence continues to haunt those at the receiving end. Doctors call it post-traumatic stress, which can stalk people for life if the emotional shock is not resolved.
Maintenance engineer Pradeep Sharma’s (name changed) wife Manju says he went into a shell after coming back home from the hospital. “When visitors asked what had happened, he would become very quiet and I had to do all the narrating,” she says.
“Most people either show a freeze response and go numb and quiet, or show heightened emotions such as anger or grief, both of which are normal reactions in the first few days. Support — it can be from the family, friends or a professional — can stop the transient stress from turning into a permanent disorder,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, additional professor at the department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Trauma experienced at home or at the workplace hits people harder, compared to, say, road accidents. “Home and workplace are your spaces, where you feel safe. Such incidents shatter our sense of security in our immediate world, leaving us shaken, nervous and sleepless,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director of mental health, Fortis Healthcare.
For Mehta, the incident “was like a film sequence from a horror film, only the monsters had human faces. It keeps running in my head at night and whenever I am alone.”
Thoughts of the attack still evoke an intense emotional response in him that has made him acutely conscious of how reality can change in a heartbeat. “I keep thinking, ‘How could this happen?’ How can humans behave this way?” says Mehta.
Like him, Pradeep Sharma, 50, has become a chronic insomniac. “I never took sleeping pills before. Now, however, I can’t sleep without them,” he says. “I stay up nights, remembering. I don't know how long it will go on, it's really painful.”
Sharma, of course, is referring to his painful memories, and not his broken left arm and badly bruised back that had him laid up in hospital for four days. “They were hitting everyone and everything in sight. My glasses broke, and my left hand got fractured as I tried to save my head. I lost consciousness,” says Sharma.
That’s probably what saved him and convinced the workers to leave him for dead. “When I came to, my back was in acute pain and there was smoke all around. I managed to crawl downstairs and saw about 70-80 people covered in blood,” says Sharma.
His wife Manju watches him struggling to come back to the world he shut out completely for a while after he got home from the hospital on Sunday morning. “I don’t want him to go back to the Manesar plant at all, but when I say so, he doesn’t respond. What happened is unbelievable, where is the security?” she says.
Psychiatrists insist television or eyewitness accounts cannot recreate the terror for those who weren't there. “Recalling a life-threatening experience can overwhelm you, and even months later, make you feel helpless and even guilty for not being able to prevent it from happening, protecting yourself or others better, or even having survived when someone you know died,” says Dr Sagar.
Talking it through
“Talking about the experience leads to repetition. Discussing your emotions and fears with your support network - friends and family — helps regain emotional balance. But if the troubling memories persist for weeks, it is best to seek counselling, which can be done individually of in a group,” Dr Sagar adds.
How a person reacts to tragic situations varies widely. “Some people may be in a state of shock longer than others, some may want to talk, while others want to withdraw completely. You have to give them time and space and help them deal with it in the best possible way,” says Dr Parikh.
"Trauma can open up old emotional wounds, and if not addressed and resolved, can cause anxiety or depression. It has to be addressed, be it using just therapy of prescription medicines, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medicines," says Dr Parikh.