The recent COVID-19 lockdown, which had led to the loss of several livelihoods, claimed one more life as a former employee of a private school allegedly committed suicide by setting himself ablaze near the school near Sreekaryam on Monday.
Sreekumar, 55, of Maruthoor, Vattappara, purportedly doused himself in petrol and set himself ablaze inside his own autorickshaw at around 7.30 a.m. after he parked the vehicle a stone’s throw away from the L’école Chempaka school, Edavacode. Incidentally, the suicide bid took place on the same day when students of Classes X and XII rejoined the school after the lockdown.
Attempts made by local residents to douse the fire came to a naught as the fire spread to trees nearby and continued to rage on until a Kerala Fire and Rescue Services team reached the spot. Despite their efforts, Sreekumar was found dead inside the charred vehicle.
The deceased used to work in the school as a driver for 16 years until he and 83 other non-teaching employees, including his wife Bindu who had been employed as a cleaner there, were laid off in September last year.
While Sreekumar’s family apparently fell on hard times, he is suspected to have taken the extreme step after the management had decided to outsource their jobs, the police said.
A supposed suicide note was found in Sreekumar’s diary that he apparently gave a former colleague a day ago before committing suicide.
Following the incident, the former employees of the school resisted the efforts of the police to shift the body and demanded the District Collector’s intervention in ensuring reasonable compensation from the school management.
Later, district authorities led by Sub-Collector M.S. Madhavikutty convened a meeting at the school to resolve the issue.
The management decided to provide the family a solatium of ₹15 lakh, of which ₹5 lakh has already been provided.
In addition, the school will also provide a relief aid of ₹10,000 every month to Bindu throughout her life. Besides his wife, Sreekumar is survived by their two daughters.
School principal Joy M. Varghese said the employees in the driving and cleaning wings had been paid full salary till June 2020, but the imposition of the lockdown and dwindling income compelled the management to reduce their salaries by 30% in July.
However, a proposal to cut their wages by half (their original salaries) irked the employees who went on an agitation mode. Around the same time, the school had roped in an agency for the maintenance of the school.
Later, the district labour union convened meetings following which the management entered into an agreement with the agitators to reappoint 61 employees, including Sreekumar and Bindu, through the outsourcing agency.
The school authorities had also cleared the retirement benefits of all employees by then, he said.
(Suicide prevention helpline: DISHA: 1056, 0471-2552056)