Just as farmer suicides were a consequence of the agrarian crisis, Covid-19 could probably see a surge in ‘techie suicides’. Following a phone call from IT major Wipro that she has been laid off, a company employee based out of Kochi’s Infopark committed suicide on May 7th. She got the call on May 6th as she shared the news with her parents, had dinner with them and was found hanging in her bedroom next morning. “In our primary investigation, we understand that the girl committed suicide out of grief for losing the job,” the station house officer told Open, adding that the police were making further inquiries.
Jeenamol Joseph, 26, daughter of PJ Joseph and Graisamma of Puthenparambil at Kavalam, is no more. She was among the hundreds of techies being laid off owing to the lockdown crisis countrywide. It was a silent death. No pandemonium created by the media. Nobody reported the suicide apart from a couple of local newspapers. The social media in Kerala did not even notice her demise. No suicide note was found by the police. Even the family members reserved comments. “I understand that they [Jeena’s parents] do not want to create an issue; they do not want to talk to the media,” says a cousin of Jeena, who too sounded reluctant to talk to us.
“This silence is so scary,” says an employee at Infopark on condition of anonymity. “We came to know that many companies have already started the process of layoffs. Many are preparing the list of employees to be laid off. This happens very silently, nobody knows about it, no one dares raise their voice as nobody’s job is secure”. Though Open contacted the concerned HR manager of Wipro over phone, he refused to comment, saying that he had no information about the suicide and was not authorised to speak to the media.
This is not a first for Wipro. In Maharashtra, the labour commissioner has issued notice to the Pune branch of Wipro for benching around 300 employees at the back of the Covid-19 pandemic. The commissioner issued a notice to the company following a complaint registered by the Maharashtra-based IT union, National Information Technology Employees’ Senate (NITES). The complaint by the union (of which Open accessed a copy) demands legal action against the company for acting in violation of the order issued by the government of Maharashtra banning the layoff and cutting down salaries during the lockdown. In the complaint to the labour commissioner, NITES says that it has received complaints from the employees of Wipro BPO at Phase 2 Hinjewadi in Pune regarding putting such employees on the bench to maintain profitability during the pandemic. This is not specific to Wipro alone. The IT employees working in Smart City and Infopark at Kochi claim that many of them have been facing the threat of layoffs. A multinational petroleum company in Smart City has laid off 75 employees (out of a total strength of 300). “The employees are too scared to go with complaints as they are worried that they would not get jobs anywhere in the future,” says an IT engineer working at Infopark.
Dr TM Thomas Issac, the Finance Minister of Kerala, who is from Alappuzha, says that the suicide has not come to his notice. He toldOpen that the government would certainly look into it and act appropriately. “We demand investigation into her suicide,” says TB Mini, the state secretary of TUCI (Trade Union Centre of India). “There is a standing order by the Government of India not to give pink slips to people during the lockdown period, but there are several IT companies that violate this rule,” Mini told Open, adding that they have been moving a complaint to the Chief Minister demanding further probe in the death of Jeena. “Calling up someone on the phone and informing that they are no more on the payroll is brutally illegal. Whoever is responsible for her suicide should be brought to the course of law,” says Mini.
“We have already submitted a representation to the government requesting their immediate intervention to prevent job loss,” says Anish P, the president of Progressive Techies, a welfare organisation of IT employees in Kerala. The association has requested the government to form a committee consisting of IT experts, economists and the representatives of employers and employees. The association has also demanded to start helplines for IT employees and to provide incentives for startups. Notwithstanding such initiatives, massive job losses have taken root, eventually leading to suicides.