Two years ago, G Sermaraj’s life changed forever. He was standing across from the Thoothukudi collectorate when Tamil Nadu police opened fire on people protesting the Sterlite Copper plant in the coastal town. A bullet pierced his right knee, disabling him for life and putting an end to his dreams of starting a business.
“I should have tried to escape,” the 25-year-old says.
By the time he started the job -- assistant cook at the Potalkadu Higher Secondary School noon meal centre -- given on compassionate grounds in September 2018, he had already undergone three surgeries on his leg. “I couldn’t carry the water cans or sit on the ground and clean the vessels,” he says. But when he finally quit the job, it was because he was spending almost as much as he was earning just on the commute.
"The salary of Rs 4,000 a month was just not enough," he says, explaining that the noon meal centre is located 15km from his home. “I was spending Rs 3,500 every month just on petrol for the bike,” he says.
At the time of the police firing he was an operator at a private oil mill and earned Rs 13,000 a month. After he recovered from the injury, his employer didn’t him back
“At least Rs 10,000 is required every month to live a decent life,” he says, adding that after several futile petitions to the government for a different job, he’s given up. (Thoothukudi Collector Sandeep Nanduri said appointments were made based on a Government Order which had prescribed the jobs to be given as per eligibility. "If the beneficiaries do not like the job, we cannot do anything unless the government decides otherwise," he said.)
Sermaraj’s leg has been operated on five times now and is bent.
“I can’t do hard labour like before. I will just have to look after my father’s petty shop.”
However, there are two things in Sermaraj’s life that give him joy. One is the closure of the Sterlite Copper unit. “I am happy that Thoothukudi residents can now breathe clean air. It is because of our sacrifice,” he says.
The second is his upcoming nuptials. “She is a relative but there were some issues after the firing. Now the family has come together and arranged the marriage,” he smiles. The wedding is scheduled for May 27.