Like any other child, Kinshuk Verma, a seven-year-old, would go to school along with his friends in the school bus every day. On Wednesday, he was asked to get down because his name had been struck off the rolls due to non-payment of fees.
Kinshuk's father Hemant is a technician with the debt-ridden Kingfisher Airlines. And like thousands of other employees, he has not received his salary for the last seven months.
"When I'm struggling to provide them even three meals a day, where would I find Rs. 25,000 for school fees?" he said. "I have borrowed money from all my friends and relatives and don't know what to do," he said.
Kingfisher declared a lockout till October 12 after the management failed to resolve the deadlock with its striking employees over non-payment of salaries.
On Friday, a group of over 100 employees held a candlelight vigil from Jantar Mantar to India Gate in Delhi to condole the death of the wife of a Kingfisher technician who allegedly committed suicide because of financial stress.
End of Good times
"I lived like a king till a year ago but have become a pauper now," said Mukesh Kumar, an operator. "I had to sell my house because the recovery agents were harassing me," he said.
Shivani Pant, a Mumbai-based cabin crew, remembers the time when the staff was pampered. "We stayed in the best hotels and got generous food and travel allowances," she said. Now, she has to travel to the airport by rickshaw to report for flights.
Those who were paying home loan installments or living on rent have been forced to live with their parents or with relatives. "I had to move to my cousins' house after my landlord evicted me," said Anand Tripathi.
No way out
When Vipul Mehra was training to become an aircraft maintenance engineer five years ago, the aviation industry offered good money and a good life.
"The sector was booming and salaries were big because the responsibility is immense. Back then, I had no inkling that I would be in a situation where my father would have to meet my expenses from his pension," he said.
Most airline jobs are specialised and employees find it difficult to shift careers. "It's like asking a doctor to become a banker," he said.
With a handful of domestic airlines in India and not many making much profit, it's hard to find another job. "There are scores of engineers and technicians waiting for a single vacancy," he said.
The lucky few who managed to join other airlines took a huge salary cut. "I got an offer from another airline but they were offering me 50% less. I had no option but to accept it. The industry is in crisis and every company is exploiting the employees," Siraj Ahmed, who was with Kingfisher till last month, said.
(With inputs from Panna Saroopa)
(All names have been changed)