It is the 55th day of the pilots' agitation and the eighth day of their hunger protest.
The pilots of erstwhile Air India were victims of prejudice and bias by the top management of the airline dominated by personnel of the erstwhile Indian Airlines. While the management was focussed on addressing the issues of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, the career progression of the pilots of erstwhile Air India were automatically compromised. Having failed to get themselves heard, the pilots of the IPG had no choice but to agitate to initiate dialogue. To their horror, the management did just the opposite. The management was so prompt in resorting to mass terminations, that it almost felt as though it was premeditated. Their resolve of not initiating dialogue with the pilots, which is contrary to how they handled the strike of the pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines, further highlights their act of bias. In order to break the strike, the management punished the pilots by means of more terminations, court cases and failed attempts to recruit more pilots. Strangely, these attacks only strengthened the unity of the pilots. 440 of them have stood their ground for 55 days without any cracks in their ranks. This also goes to show the level of injustice they have been subjected to. The pilots have also made every attempt to engage in dialogue and end this crisis. Their latest one being their hunger protest.
Here is the story of a 25-year-old First officer, Capt. Tejveer Singh. Son of Badan Singh, 56, a school teacher from Bharatpur in Rajasthan. When Tejveer joined Air India four years ago, little did he know that he would become an inspiration to many for years to come.
Tejveer joined the hunger protest, fasting from day one in Delhi. Braving Delhi's heat of 45 degrees Celsius, he continuously fasted for six days in a row. In his hometown, his 50-year-old mother also began her fast along with her son. On the sixth day of Tejveer's fast, his parents came from Bharatpur, a town 150 kilometres away from Delhi, to persuade him to break his fast. But the defiant Tejveer refused to do so. After much insistence and persuasion from his colleagues, he finally broke the fast for the sake of his mother.
While his batch mates in IGRUA (the school where Tejveer learned how to fly) had pictures of leading ladies of Bollywood and Hollywood in their rooms, Tejveer hung pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh. He was one of the few recipients of the JRD Tata scholarship for his excellence in flying. His reputation in the airline is that of a thorough professional, which his seniors vouch for.
Tejveer has two younger siblings to support. With his parents' humble earnings, their future is entirely dependent on his income. Being a man of principles and an ardent follower of Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi, the man chose to follow his heart and stand up for his right to justice.
There are several others like Capt. Tejveer Singh, who have not only been on fast for seven days at a stretch, but have braved to do so at a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius.
While health means more than wealth to a pilot, these pilots have gone on to risk all that they have got, in their quest for justice. A provocative, insensitive and immature statement by our Civil Aviation Minister, pushed these pilots to risk damaging their health to a point, wherein they could lose their ability to make a living as an aviator.
Instead of dealing with this 'over 50 days old impasse' with compassion and reason, Ajit Singh went on to make a mockery of the pilots' fast by saying that, a 48 hours fast is only good for one's health.
Being the largest stakeholders of the Company, the pilots have made every effort to engage in dialogue and put an end to this longstanding impasse. They have even risked their lives to demonstrate their commitment to save the Maharajah. On the contrary, the Minister chose to make a mockery of the pilots' fast and soon left for a vacation to London. He will be returning on July 8.
While the management is not empowered to take any decisions in the absence of the Minister, a solution in the near future is out of the question. Such is the commitment of the Ministry & Management to resolve this longstanding crisis.
It is high time the Prime Minister intervenes to plug this unnecessary drain on the public exchequer.