Prathap Kumar K, a 34-year-old KSTDC cab driver, had immolated himself on Tuesday.

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news Suicide Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - 17:43

“If the situation remains as it is, I don’t know if that will be me in place of Prathap tomorrow,” said one of his colleagues gathered at the Victoria Hospital mortuary on Wednesday. There was anger and frustration, as well sorrow among those who came in support of his family as Prathap’s death was confirmed by doctors. Prathap Kumar K, a 34-year-old KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) airport taxi driver who hailed from the neighbouring Ramanagara district, was admitted on Tuesday afternoon. He suffered more than 70% burns as he immolated himself at the Kempegowda International Airport premises.

According to his colleagues, Prathap was distressed by his financial condition, and the immolation was a protest against the lack of government help over the economic distress caused due to fuel price hike and bad business, since the COVID-19 induced lockdown. “Over the last few days, he had spoken about his difficulty in paying off his loans multiple times. He was very unhappy over the change in the parking pass system for airport cab drivers. His pass had got cancelled,” Prathap’s cousin Ajay, who was at the hospital, told TNM.

He added, “Prathap told me that he was afraid that his car would be seized for defaulting on EMIs, so he started working nights as well.”

TNM spoke to some of Prathap’s colleagues who said that they are in dire need of financial assistance as they are struggling to pay off their car loans and fear the seizure of their cars — their source of income. The cab drivers felt that both the Union and the state governments have done nothing to make life easy for them as they are hurt by rising fuel prices and significant decrease in income since the pandemic hit.

Vijaykumar, a fellow KSTDC driver, said drivers like him have been pushed into debt as the footfall at the airport has drastically reduced. “According to the deal with KSTDC, we get 50% of the fares while the other 50% goes to the agency. Over the last few years, our customers were going to Uber and Ola as they are cheaper. But we are operating under a fixed rate. In current circumstances, with lesser footfall at the airport, we get only 1-2 rides daily — meaning a total earning of Rs 1,000,” he said. 

“With diesel, food and parking charges, there is not much left to pay off our car loans — nor money to spend for our families,” Vijaykumar said.

Hamid Akbar, President of the KSTDC Airport Taxi Drivers Union, said “We have been demanding that we also be allowed to have competitive rates or dynamic price models like Uber and Ola. But we have not got permission from KSTDC,” he told TNM. 

The act of protest

On Tuesday evening, Prathap decided to self immolate in protest against the injustice he faced. He drove up to the road in front of the airport terminal, doused himself and the insides of the car with petrol. Later he closed the doors and windows of his car and struk a matchstick inside the car which set his car ablaze. Prathap was rushed to the burns ward on Tuesday, but doctors couldn’t save his life.

While much of the ward floor on Wednesday was occupied by his family and fellow drivers who came to offer their solidarity, there was a larger group just outside the hospital building. The group included Kannada activists and other cab drivers who wanted to sit in protest on the path leading to the hospital building demanding justice. Police who were called in by the hospital authorities rushed to the spot and convinced them to withdraw the protest in the interest of other patients.

Not only the government, some of the drivers were angry with the media too for not doing enough to highlight the distress faced by them.

Drivers stop services

While there were many of his colleagues gathered in the hospital, news of his death prompted multiple protests among cab drivers including those attached with Uber and Ola. One such protest was held at the airport premises where the drivers demanded government intervention to make their situation better. Another batch of protesters gathered before the official residence of Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. 

A section of taxi drivers also went to meet government officials including Deputy CM and Transport Minister Laxman Savadi over Pratap’s demise. Savadi’s office declined to comment until the meeting with the unions was over.

With drivers protesting, the Kempegowda International Airport issued an advisory to flyers asking them to make alternative transportation arrangements. 

Read also: Bengaluru cab drivers go on strike at airport after driver who set himself on fire dies

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organizations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.   

Tamil Nadu

State health department's suicide helpline: 104

Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh

Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930

Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Karnataka

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

Kerala

Maithri: 0484 2540530

Chaithram: 0484 2361161

Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Telangana

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104

Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200

SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)

Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.    

24x7 Helpline: 9820466726

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