Subramani worked every day for the last 15 years, cleaning the streets of Bengaluru. But for the last 6 months, he wasn’t paid a single rupee by the BBMP. On Sunday, after months of hunger and thirst, poverty and humiliation, Subramani decided to take his own life.
After going to work every single day - cleaning the streets of Bengaluru - but because his salary had been withheld for the last 6 months, a pourakarmika committed suicide on Monday.
The victim’s kin has blamed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)’s Health Inspector and Assistant Executive Engineer, Solid Waste Management, over the non-payment of his dues.
Sources said that in a note written before he died, Subramani had said that he didn’t have money to pay for food and other essentials for his family. He had asked the BBMP to release his payment for the last 6 months.
He is survived by his wife and two young children - one of whom is 10 years old and the other, 7. He had to pull them out of school in June, as he could not pay their fees.
Subramani, aged 40, used to work in Ward Number 77, the Dattatreya Temple Ward, as a cleaner. He was brought to KC General Hospital by his wife Savita. However, doctors declared him as brought dead.
While Subramani lived with his family in Muneshwara Block, he was found dead in his father’s house near Vinayaka Circle.
"He had not been paid his salary for the last six months, and he was in deep financial trouble. His wife has filed a complaint saying this was the reason he committed suicide. We are investigating the incident from all possible angles," said Sudhakar KH, a police officer at Vyalikaval Police Station.
However, the police have only registered an FIR under suspicious or unnatural death, and not abetment of suicide against the BBMP or the contractor he worked for.
The officer absolved the BBMP of Subramani’s death and claimed that he was still working for a contractor associated with the civic body.
Meanwhile, Nirmala, a BBMP workers’ union leader from Goraguntepalya, said that Subramani should have been paid by the BBMP since January, and called for BBMP officials to be arrested in connection with this incident.
Subramani’s family too slammed the police and said that there was no doubt he worked for the BBMP. “He put in his biometric attendance every day, and worked regularly. Even though they weren’t paying him, he continued going to work hoping that he would get his salary and then he could send his children to school again,” said Latha, Subramani’s sister.
Activists too called for the role of the BBMP officials to be put under the scanner.
“They should register a case under Section 306 (abetment of murder) of the Indian Penal Code and everyone from the Additional Executive Engineer to the Commissioner of the BBMP should be held culpable,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, of the Alternate Law Forum.
The President of the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmika Sangha too reacted strongly to Subramani's death.
"This is government-sponsored murder. The BBMP officials demand Rs 500-1,000 per sweeper when they go to ask for their pay. If they refuse, salaries are withheld. Subramani begged the BBMP to pay him his salary. He had told them that he has two daughters whom he has to support and with the pressure from the private moneylenders to repay the loan, he had no choice but to commit suicide. They didn't listen to his pleas. They humiliated him and dared him to kill himself," alleged Obalappa, President of the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmika Sangha.
Obalappa says that of the 18,000 pourakarmikas in the city, 2,000 of them fall under the extra labourers category and that Subramani was also under this category.
The BBMP regularised pourakarmikas in January 2018, eliminating the contract system previously in place. In the present system, the workers are to be paid directly by the government.
However, payments have not been made to hundreds of pourakarmikas since January, forcing the workers to take loans from moneylenders to make ends meet.
Despite the fact they haven’t been paid, several workers continued working as they were hopeful that they would receive their salaries soon. Many of them have been employed by the BBMP or by contractors for the civic agency for at least a couple of decades, but have not been paid in the last six months.
The system of paying pourakarmikas directly was brought in to replace the problematic contract system, in which the workers were paid according to the whims of the contractors. These contractors have been accused of paying pourakarmikas only a part of their salary, and fudging the number of pourakarmikas employed to claim more money from the BBMP.
But even the new system, in which pourakarmikas in the city are asked to verify their attendance thrice a day in a biometric authentication machine, has not been able to bring relief to the workers.
Pourakarmikas in the city have held several protests and, while few of them have received payments, many including Subramani did not receive any relief.
With inputs from Theja Ram
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal please provide help. Karnataka has a 24-hour helpline for those seeking help. Sahai in Karnataka: 24-hour helpline numbers: 080- 65000111, 65000222