Chandran N, who is in his 60s now, suffered from a stroke a few months ago. This on top of the fact he is a chronic diabetic; hence, he has to shell out close to Rs 5,000 on his medicines every month. Chandran, who retired as a supervisor of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, has especially been struggling to make ends meet these last five months.
“Even when I was getting my pension regularly, it was really hard to manage with the limited money I used to get. Now that it has stopped coming to me, it has become impossible for me to pay for my medicines,” says Chandran.
As many as 38,860 retired employees of the Corporation have been protesting for three months now, asking the government to release their pension.
Thankamma, the widow of a pensioner in Kuthatukulam near Muvattupuzha, killed herself last week because of the financial strain she was under. “Her son is intellectually disabled and the pension of her late husband was what sustained the family,” said Divakaran, executive member, KSRTC Pensioners’ Organisation.
Protestors say this is the sixth suicide seen in the last five months – ever since they stopped receiving their pension.
“When the United Democratic Front government was in power, it (our pensions) was stopped for two-and-a-half months. And some among the 11 political leaders who supported our protest at that time are now ministers at the incumbent Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. We trusted them and voted for them. During the previous government’s time when the pension was not given, the government had contributed half of the money while the Corporation bore the other half. In the election manifesto of the LDF, it was promised that KSRTC pension will be taken up by the government,” Divakaran said.
The pensions stopped coming from September 2017. The protests began mid-November and this is the sixth phase of the movement.
Protestors have gathered at a makeshift pandal in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening. In the previous phases of their agitation, they have blocked roads, marched to the Secretariat and blocked KSRTC depots.
In the next phase, they are planning to march to the State Legislative Assembly on January 25. The Assembly session begins on January 22. They are also launching a dharna, where their family members are participating, and a hunger strike is being planned for January 27.
“Two of us will fast every day, round the clock,” says Vanchiyoor Gopalakrishna, vice-president of the organisation.