Residents of Muneshwara Block, a cramped locality near Malleshwaram in Bengaluru, say they are not used to the sight of strange men walking in their narrow streets. "We were amused by the number of people who were trying to squeeze through the lane in front of our house on Sunday. The Deputy Chief Minister himself was here to visit us" says Latha, a resident of the locality.
Deputy CM G Parameshwara was in the locality to visit Kavitha, Latha and Vijaya, the family of S Subramani, a pourakarmika who took his life on July 8.
Subramani was not paid his wages by the BBMP for six months. He was relying on his wife Kavita and sisters Vijaya and Latha for support in the months before his death. "We were down to the bare minimum. He hesitated even to buy slippers for himself. I work at two households as a house help but it was not enough to keep our kids in school or pay for three meals a day" says a grief-stricken Kavita sitting in her apartment, flanked by her two children, Darshan (7) and Pavitra (10).
Kavita and Subramani were forced to remove them from school at the start of this academic year as they were unable to pay the admission fees. "They were sitting at home for a few weeks and every morning, I would have coffee with him and he would bring this issue up. He simply wanted the money he was due for the work he did," says Vijaya.
The trio appreciated the Deputy CM's gesture of coming to their house to meet them but admit that the amid the din and fanfare of the visit, serious questions surrounding the death went unanswered. "What happened with my husband should not happen with anyone else. We want the BBMP to pay all its pourakarmikas and also ensure that they are provided with gloves and safety equipment," says Kavita.
She rejected Parameshwara's suggestion that Subramani was ill before he decided to take his life. "He did not even have a cough in the days before his death. The post mortem will also say the same. He should not have made that statement," she says indignantly.
She further criticised the behaviour of the police, especially their unwillingness to file a case against BBMP officials and the supervisor working at Ward 77 Dattatreya Temple, where Subramani worked. She accused them of rejecting the typed letter which Subramani had written a day before his death.
In the letter addressed to the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, Subramani had appealed to the BBMP to pay his wages for the last seven months.
"Subramani could not read and write so he had got the letter written by spelling out his problems orally. The police say we created the letter but we don't know the details in the letter. We found it in his pocket," Kavitha says.
The police initially filed a case of unnatural death but eventually sent notices to the BBMP asking whether Subramani's salary was withheld for six months. Subramani's supervisor Basavaraj's role is now in question and Kavitha is adamant that a case of 'abetting a suicide' should be taken up against him.
"In the weeks leading up to the incident, Subramani and I had approached Basavaraj about payment of wages several times. Each time, he dismissed us saying that the payment will be done soon," she says. "My husband was stubborn. He used to always say that he has done this job for 15 years and believed that he will be paid eventually," she adds.
Kavitha is now coming to terms with the loss of her husband and the responsibilities of being the sole bread-winner in the family. "With my husband gone, three families are suffering - my family and the families of his sisters. He was a pillar of strength for all of us because he would settle any differences that came up," Vijaya says.
They are hopeful that the compensation announced is enough to pay off the loans taken by Subramani under pressure. "We are happy that the school took our children back after hearing what had happened," Kavitha says. Going forward, she hopes that she will be able to secure a job cleaning at a nearby anganwadi or school. "The officials who came yesterday have all given assurances, but no one has taken responsiibility for it yet. I will believe it only when I am given an appointment letter. We have been hearing promises for the last six months", she adds