Vaidehi Ankolekar, a bus conductor on duty in Mumbai, is facing a harsh challenge during the pandemic. Mother of India’s U-19 cricketer Atharva Ankoleka, she is the breadwinner in her family. She raised her two sons single-handedly after their father passed away in 2010 due to malaria. The 43-year-old conductor with Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) in Mumbai has now said that she is yet to receive any insurance policy. Being a frontline worker, risking her life every day, Vaidehi has no option but to go to work due to the lack of financial stability.
“I have to ensure essential staff, including BMC employees, police, doctors and nurses, reach their workplace on time. In the absence of trains, which are the city’s lifeline, these warriors depend on buses and on workers like me. I feel proud I have a role to play in this battle against COVID,” Vaidehi, mother of Atharva (18) and Parth (13) told Times of India.
I have to ensure essential staff, including BMC employees, police, doctors and nurses, reach their workplace on time.
Just a few months ago, Vaidehi celebrated her son’s success in the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. Today, she is working as a part of the transport system which has been operating even during the lockdown to ferry essential workers. Vaidehi is aware of the risk of contracting the virus, but she reports to work every day. “We have not been provided with any insurance cover,” she claimed.
- Vaidehi Ankolekar is among 15 women bus conductors working between Thane/Vasai/Kalyan/Panvel and Mumbai daily.
- “We have not been provided with any insurance cover,” she claimed.
- The mother of India’s U-19 cricketer Atharva Ankoleka is the sole breadwinner in her family.
- Her husband passed away in 2010 due to malaria, and since then Vaidehi has been taking care of her sons single-handedly.
A single mother’s suffering
This single parent has been living in a small room in an Andheri (East) chawl with her two sons. She revealed that when the time was tough, initially, she started taking tuitions to provide for daily living expenses, before she joined BEST in 2014 as a bus conductor. “I had no job (after my husband passed away). I started teaching immediately and I wanted Bandya to have proper coaching, so I mortgaged my two gold bangles to pay for his annual coaching fees of R14,000. A few months after my husband’s death, I got a call from the BEST, who offered me a job. That helped me get a regular income,” she had earlier said.
Vaidehi is among 15 women bus conductors working between Thane/Vasai/Kalyan/Panvel and Mumbai daily. “I am on an Andheri-Virar route. BEST doesn’t operate till Virar, but this is an emergency service for essential workers,” she said.
Our building too was sealed recently after a case here. But if we don’t go to work, we are marked absent without leave. Kaise chalega? I need my full salary.
Having limited means she has to take the workload during the pandemic to make ends meet. Vaidehi explained, “Due to the rising number of cases and deaths of BEST employees, Atharva was not letting me go to work. Our building too was sealed recently after a case here. But if we don’t go to work, we are marked absent without leave. Kaise chalega? I need my full salary. I somehow convinced him I had to continue with my job.”
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Awaiting a decent insurance
“We have not been provided any insurance cover. In the BMC or police department, the government at least provides an insurance cover of at least Rs 50 lakh, apart from providing a job to a family member. We have lost eight staffers so far due to COVID-19. If they had been provided an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh, it would have been some measure of relief for their families,” she said, adding that in time of crisis the frontline workers are most vulnerable and in dire need of support.
“Nothing is more precious than life, but at least the family should get some support in case we don’t survive this crisis,” Vaidehi added. Her younger son Parth is also a left-arm spinner and is part of the Mumbai U-14 set up.
An official from the BEST management said they have not received any information on insurance cover yet.