Despite hardships, families of striking Air India pilots support stir

June 26th, 2012 - 12:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) They are highly skilled pilots but in danger of losing their jobs and face an uncertain financial future. The striking aviators of Air India, however, say their resolve has been strengthened by the support they have received from their families.

IANS caught up with pilots on the sidelines of a hunger strike they initiated Sunday, the 48th day of their stir.

“My family stands by me. My father was a pilot in the navy and after that in civil aviation. They understand that it is a just cause that we are fighting for,” Rohit Kapahi, 33, a committee member of Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) that is leading the stir, told IANS.

“Our colleagues have been sacked, our finances are troubled as we have not been paid for months and face an uncertain future. Even after this I have support of my family, friends and well-wishers,” said the second generation aviator.

The Air India management has sacked 101 pilots belonging to the IPG. Around 440 pilots had struck work since May 8 against the management move to train pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines in the merged entity on the soon-to-be-inducted Boeing-787 Dreamliner.

The government has been sending feelers to the pilots to end the strike. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had on June 6 invited the pilots to first resume their duties and said that the sacked pilots will be reinstated on a case-to-case basis. But the pilots want a complete reinstatement before calling off the strike.

Kapahi’s views were not just corroborated by his 65-year-old father Rakesh Kapahi, but fiercely defended too.

“If it was my son alone, I would not have let him go on strike. But it’s not just him. It’s 400-odd pilots that are with him. These guys are demanding their justifiable rights. I fully support them,” Rakesh Kapahi told IANS.

“It is a shame that highly trained professionals like pilots, who are an indicator of the level of services and development a country has achieved, are today on a hunger strike.”

Not just senior commanders but young aviators who have joined the strike also say that though they are anxious about the outcome of the deadlock, they have faith in the unity of the pilots.

“Our concern right now is to have a secure future. Yes, I am anxious today. But by asking for our rights I am at least securing my future,” said 24-year-old Anchit Bharadwaj, who joined Air India three years ago.

His 23-year-old colleague Manish Chaudhary also expressed similar views, stating: “We are young with three years of experience as compared to our senior colleague who have put in 10-15 years worth of work behind them in the airline. We stand together in this and we will come out of the issue together.”

Homemakers of the pilots too feel the pinch of the strike and the financial crunch, but say that are willing to fight alongside their spouses.

“I support my husband to the hilt. Yes, I have my apprehensions. We have two little children. But I know we will come out of this thing in a good way,” said Aneet Dhillon whose husband, Captain Aditya Singh Dhillon, is a part of the protest fast.

When asked about the views of their children about the strike she said: “We just try and tell them that their dad is on a fast just like Anna Hazare for a just cause. But it has been hard on the family, on the kids, we have not even gone out for a movie in the last so many months, let alone a holiday.”

But for Captain Dhillon, the hardest moment recently was to see his six-year-old daughter break her piggy bank to support him.

“I was heartbroken. We were discussing the situation about one of our friends as he was facing financial difficulties due to the delay in our pay. And there she was with some cash that she took out from here piggy bank,” Dhillon said.

When asked whether they would like their children to join Air India as pilots, Aneet Dhillon said: “Of course Air India is in our blood. Every one has issues and they can be resolved by talks. I believe this issue will also be resolved.”

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rphit.v@ians.in)

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