Hyderabad: “For us, there is no Diwali. I am worried about paying my son’s and daughter’s college fees,” said Mr S. Satyanarayana, a bus driver with the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC). He is one of the thousands of employees who, according to the state government, was ‘self-dismissed’ for not showing up to work. The employees have been on an indefinite strike since October 5.
Mr Satyanarayana, his wife and two children live in a rented house in Gudimalkapur. He has worked at TSRTC’s Mehdipatnam depot since 1996. “When I first saw the news that said I no longer had a job, I was shocked. I did not expect to be fired so unceremoniously,” he said.
Pointing to his wife who was sitting beside him, he said, “She has been glued to the TV for the past two weeks. She hasn’t had any food in two days.”
The couple’s son is a first-year intermediate student and their daughter is a BSc student. Both of them have been at home these past couple of weeks as most educational institutions had declared holidays. “Once my daughter’s classes start, I will be asked to pay her term fees. It is not a small amount for us. Come November 1, we also need to pay the rent,” he said.
One of Mr Satya-narayana’s neighbours, who is the wife of a TSRTC conductor, too conveyed the same fears. “We do not have a lot of savings. My son is also studying in college. We have to pay `25,000 as his fees soon. If my husband doesn’t get his salary till then, I will pawn my gold,” she said.
Ms Nazimunisa, a conductor, is in a better position than her peers. “My husband runs a business. So I had the opportunity to set some money aside for my children’s education. I will be fine for a few months even if I don’t get my job back,” she said.
However, Ms Nazimun-isa is not untouched by the chaos around her. “The plight of some of my female colleagues is horrible. One of them recently tried to kill herself. She is a single mother and is very worried about money. A few of us got together and counselled her. We keep checking on her every few hours,” she said.
Some of the employees are involving their families in the protests, to drive home the point that many lives were dependent on the state government’s decisions. Mr Krishna, a conductor from Sangareddy, with 31 years of service under his belt, said, “While both my children are settled with stable jobs, not all of my colleagues are so lucky. We have been conducting peaceful marches and vigils with the employees and families.”
A fear for their future and resentment towards the state government was common in all the cases. Mr Satyanarayana said, “I was an active participant of the Telangana statehood movement. I had put my faith in KCR. I was hoping for change. But this is not the change I had in mind. This is what we get for supporting him?”
He added: “In my almost 24 years of service, I never got into trouble with the police, even during the statehood movement. In the past two weeks, I have been arrested four times for participating in peaceful protests.” In the same period, he also saw the death of one-time colleague, Surender Goud, who had immolated himself at Karwan.
Meanwhile, the strike has also given rise to the spread of wild misinformation. Referring to viral Whatsapp messages that claimed TSRTC drivers made `50,000 a month, an employee’s wife asked, “If the salary was so high, why would we live in rented houses? Wouldn’t we have bought our own home?”
Some misinformation, however, seems to be coming from the employees too. Sai, an intermediate student who had accompanied his uncle for a protest at RTC Crossroads the previous day, claimed that his uncle told him the state government would fall soon. A few bemused policemen who overheard the conversation made him sit down and explained to him that it was unlikely and his uncle was exaggerating the power of the strike.
While this claim might have been exaggerated, it is not untrue that many people are running out of patience. This government’s days may be well and truly numbered.