Darkness looming in Subramani’s tenement

Darkness looming in Subramani’s tenement

Kavitha with children Pavithra and Darshan.

Distraught family of municipal worker says he committed suicide after begging in vain for his own money

The pathway to Subramani’s house on Nagappa Street, near Palace Guttahalli in Vyalikaval, is narrow, barely enough for two people to pass through. It is also slushy. A garlanded photo of Subramani stares at you as you enter his tiny, one-room tenement. The doorway is low, and you have to squeeze through it. “Watch yourhead,” says Kavitha, his widow, as you enter the house.

For Kavitha and her two school-going children, the future looks bleak. Forty-year-old Subramani committed suicide last week, leaving them and his fraternity of sweepers in shock. He hadn’t been paid for seven months, and found it impossible to go on. “We didn’t have to worry with him around. He made sure none of us ever went to bed hungry,” she says.

The shock and sorrow among Subramani’s sisters and neighbours is palpable. His elder sister Vijaya, who like Kavitha works as a domestic help, says, “It’s hard to believe he is no more. He was not the kind of take his life and we had no clue he was so desperate.”

Vijaya had often called up the contractor under whom Subramani worked, and asked about the dues, but nothing had come of it. Subramani would tell her they had protested and the money would come in soon. “He shielded his pain so well,” she says.

Regular at work Subramani had been a pourakarmika for 20 years, by the family’s reckoning, and wanted to be in a government job because it gave him a sense of security. “He never skipped a day’s work and he never contemplated changing jobs even when he was not paid in time. He always hoped the salary-dues problem would be sorted out,” says Vijaya.

She can’t hold back her tears as she says, “He died begging for his own money.” Tea master Subramani started work at 5 am and returned home at 3 pm. He would immediately make tea for everybody, including his 80-year-old grandmother. He bought milk the previous night, and also make tea for neighbours, family and friends.

“We now we miss his tea. He was also a good cook. His mutton biryani, egg curry and sambar were loved by all. But we couldn’t afford non-veg often,” says Kavitha.
Kavitha had never seen Subramani take medicines. He started his career in the fumigation department of the BBMP and moved to sanitation and later became a sweeper, she says. He was healthy and had no illness.

He didn’t drink, but occasionally smoked a beedi. Respectful by nature Latha, Subramani’s younger sister, says he was respectful towards everybody, especially women. “He would even borrow money and financially help those in need. There were times when he has carried people to the hospital,” she says.

 

Waiting for relief
Subramani’s family has received a cheque of Rs 5 lakh from Mayor Sampath Raj. They are waiting for the money to be credited in the bank.

Pourakarmikas share their woes
Many like Subramani live in the neighbourhood. Suresh Naik, sweeper, says, “We haven’t been paid our wages. We are often overworked. This is inhuman.”

Lalitha, another sweeper, lost her husband three years ago. “My salary is the only income. I have huge debts and end up borrowing even for my daily needs,” she says.

Gloomy prospects
As news broke of Subramani’s suicide, the BBMP promised his wife Kavitha a job on humanitarian grounds, but she is sceptical about what will come of it.

“I don’t want to meet the same fate as Subramani. Our daughter Pavithra (10) and Darshan (7) are studying and I want them to complete their education. I don’t want them to end up in jobs like ours,” says Kavitha, wiping her tears.

Subramani’s bills

  • House rent: Rs 4,000
  • Water, electricity, utilities: Rs 1,000
  • School fees for two kids: Rs 2,000
  • Staple food is rice and sambar. His take-home salary was about Rs 12,000.
  • He hadn’t been paid for seven months. Wife Kavitha earns Rs 4,000 as a domestic help.

‘He wasn’t a direct employee’

BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad says Subramani was not on the official rolls.

“The government took a decision to pay salaries directly from the BBMP this year. There were many who came and unauthorisedly joined the system. They were not pourakarmikas before January, but joined, hoping to be made permanent. Such excess staff joined because of a corporator or MLA would have made them work there. This is illegal and something the BBMP staff should have stopped then and there.”

According to Manjunath Prasad, “The government has fixed a norm of one pourakarmika for every 700 population. We can’t go on putting people into the system. We can’t take in more than what is required because it is a burden on the BBMP.”

At least 3,300 joined as workers since January, after the BBMP started direct payment. “Subramani was doing what is called ‘gang work’ with contractors engaged in fumigation. We couldn’t remove workers like him because of local pressure,” he says.

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