Lucknow: An employee with the Uttar Pradesh government’s 181 Women Helpline died by suicide on Friday evening. The woman jumped before a train in the Shyamnagar railway crossing area in Kanpur. She was one of many workers who have not received their salaries for the last eleven months.
The deceased has been identified as Ayushi Singh. She was from the Shyamnagar area of Kanpur and had been staying with her husband and their five-year-old daughter in a rented room. Her colleagues revealed that the 32-year-old had been “frustrated” over the past few months as she had not received her salary from her employer, GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI), for the last eleven months. She was employed as a rescue van facilitator in Unnao.
Her brother, Shubhendra Singh, has alleged that his sister died in penury and demanded action against those responsible for not releasing her salary.
"Her salary had not being paid for the past year. They were called to work even during the COVID-19 emergency and were made to toil. Instead of paying them their pending salaries and rewarding their hard work, they were served a termination letter and asked not to come to work from June 5. If the Chief Minister (Yogi Adityanath) starts a scheme which does not pay people, then what is the benefit of such a scheme?" asked Shubhendra, mentioning that Ayushi’s daughter was dependent on her earnings.
Shubhendra is seven years younger to Ayushi. He tutors children at home and used to set aside some money for his sister, “so that she could at least pay rent, as her husband cannot work due to a health issue. Even her in-laws depended on my sisters' earnings,” he told NewsClick.
The death sparked a protest, with locals demanding justice for Ayushi. Her family and colleagues alleged that she was constantly harassed by her employer who didn’t pay her.
Surendra Singh, her father, said that Ayushi left their house on Friday. She told him that was going out to make a resume to apply for another job and would return soon. When she did not return, her father dialled her number but no one received the call. “Chakeri police station informed us that my daughter killed herself,” he said.
Salma, her colleague, also posted in Unnao as a facilitator, said that Ayushi was a “workaholic” and not the kind that would get bogged down easily. “The uncertainty over her future due to financial distress was triggered by the non-payment of eleven months’ salary, which forced to end her life. Not just Ayushi, all 351 women working with 181 Women Helpline in Uttar Pradesh are facing financial distress. We could not have imagined that she would take this step,” said Salma.
Sub-Inspector Ashok Yadav from Chakeri police station refused to comment on the incident, telling NewsClick that he was not aware of any such occurence.
According to her colleagues – Salma, Ranjana Shrivastava and Deepti Singh – Ayushi was upset about her unpaid salary and the termination letter served by her employer. The police have registered it as an accidental death case and said that further investigation in the matter is underway.
“Ayushi called me 24 days ago and discussed her financial problems with me. She was the lone breadwinner of the family as her husband is ill and does not have any work due to the lockdown. She was worried for her daughter and wanted to make some money for her sake,” said Deepti Singh, another colleague of Ayushi who is posted in Kanpur, told NewsClick.
According to 181 Women Helpline employees, a Memorandum of Understating (MOU) was signed between the state government and GVK EMRI for a period of five years, beginning November 18, 2015. Its term was to be over in November 2020, but before it ended, they were handed over a termination letter.
Ruchi Pratap, a team leader of the sugamkartas, based in Lucknow, told NewsClick that they have recently received a letter from GVK-EMRI that they would have to discontinue their services from June 5. “All of a sudden, we have been told that our dues would be paid only after the government releases funds, and were asked not to come to office,” she said.
The Uttar Pradesh government’s 181 helpline for women, launched on March 8, 2016 (International Women's Day) in 16 districts by then CM Akhilesh Yadav, was later extended to 64 districts by current CM Yogi Adityanath. The key objective of the helpline was to help women in distress.
The women have been employed by the Hyderabad-based public-private partnership firm GVK EMRI. The company operates the helpline, and workers have been demanding pending salaries for all 351 workers across the state, who have not been paid for the past eleven months.
After organising several protests, a group of women and Dinkar Kapoor, president of Uttar Pradesh Worker Front, met V.K. Rai, the Additional Labour Commissioner of Lucknow, and briefed him about their problems. He assured them that their salaries will be released within a week.
After Ayushi's death, Kapoor met Rai again on Saturday afternoon.
Rai passed two subsequent orders; he asked GVK EMRI to clear all pending dues of the 351 women workers till July 10. Under the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923, he ordered that a sum of Rs 5,15,400 be given to Ayushi's family before July 19.