For the last year, 48-year-old Damodaran has lived in constant fear. Every time this TASMAC employee from Podanur in Tiruvallur district walks on a deserted street, he says his stomach clenches involuntarily and he begins to shake. And why wouldn't he, when this seemingly inane activity had almost cost the supervisor his life in July 2018.
"It was a weekend and I was carrying over Rs.4 lakh in cash with me from the sales made in the outlet," he tells TNM. "The police had warned us that it was not safe to leave such a huge amount in the shop and so I would always take it home and deposit it in the bank on Monday," he adds.
However on July 7, barely 300 metres from his place of work, Damodaran was ambushed and brutally attacked. He sustained 54 cuts on his body before he finally collapsed, letting go of the bag of cash. It took him over a month to recover from the physical injuries but the mental trauma continues to haunt him.
Today Damodaran is part of the members of the TASMAC Employees Union affiliated to the AIUTC, demanding more security for those working in the liquor outlets. The group has already demanded that CCTV cameras be installed and armed security guards be deployed for the protection of workers.
(48-year-old Damodaran who was attacked last year)
"Robberies at TASMAC units have become common place in the last 5 years," says Association General Secretary Dhanasekharan. "While stores in Chennai are safe, the ones in remote areas of districts are easy targets for thieves. They rob stores by hurting employees and even threatening them at gun point. Sometimes for the money and other times to get alcohol. We have been complaining to the government for years but now we are adamant that necessary precautions be put in place," he adds.
This fresh resolve comes after the murder of a TASMAC employee in Krishnagiri district on August 14. The victim M Raja was closing down his store, when unidentified men attacked him. He was reportedly leaving with his collection for the day. Following the murder, employees of the State run liquor outlets in Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri downed shutters and staged demonstrations.
They further demanded the arrest of the perpetrators and sought police protection for all outlets.
"The police tells us not to keep the money in the shops overnight, but when we are attacked for it, who will help us?" asks Dhanasekharan. "We have already spoken to TASMAC managing director Kirlosh Kumar about our demands. We want guards just like how ATMs have or the police should accompany us while we have possession of the money," he adds.
Damodaran meanwhile points out that the employees, for no fault of their own, are held responsible when money is stolen.
"The police caught the man who attacked me but could only recover Rs.1 lakh from him. Now, the management is expecting me to pay the rest of the money. They refuse to even transfer me to another outlet ," he says. "I am a poor man. Where will I go for so much money?" he asks.