On any other Tuesday afternoon, Baby and Rajjo’s cramped lane would have been deserted. The men and women would ideally be working in factories at Bawana Industrial Area and the children would be at school. But since the fire that claimed 17 lives on Saturday evening, the residents of the lane, in Metro Vihar Phase-I, have not stepped outside their homes for work. Apart from Baby (35) and Rajjo (55), the lane lost Rita (18) and Madina (55) in the fire.
Grief and anger have now been replaced by fear — and on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, families and neighbours of the victims are determined not to return to factories.
“Baby was the only earning member of her family of five, and it took her life. We can’t even cross that factory… I will make sure that none of her children work at factories. We’d rather work at construction sites,” said Baby’s elder sister Kiran (42). It was in 2015 that Baby moved to Delhi from Dhanauri village in Patna, for “a better life”.
Over the phone from Sitapur in UP, Babu Ram (26) wonders if there is any point of returning to Delhi at all. He lost his 23-year-old sister Soni, who was five-month pregnant with her first child. “It was her second day at work after months… life in Delhi as a daily wager is very poor, and after this I am convinced that I’d rather do farming in my village. We are still contemplating if we should return to Delhi just to pick up our things or if we should stay back for a few months,” he said.
Across homes in that lane, it’s the same story — families so shaken by the nature of loss that returning to factories seems impossible. During summer holidays, Deepu (19) would work at factories for some pocket money, but after his sister Rita (18) died in the fire on Saturday, he has vowed never to work at factories. “She took up this job to help out at home…our father drinks too much and doesn’t bring home enough money. I am studying right now but when I am done, I will take up driving. I can never work at a factory,” he said.
In another lane of Metro Vihar Phase I, Meena (40) — who left the factory an hour before it went up in flames — is visibly shaken, and jobless. “I’d rather sit at home and earn nothing than work at a factory. I haven’t been able to look for work since that day… I am too scared,” she said.
Then there are those like sisters Sudha (35) and Pooja (25) who predict that eventually they will return to these factories. “We too were employed at that factory but didn’t go to work that day because there was a party at home. We are glad we are alive but we know the dangers too well and don’t want to work at a factory. But we have mouths to feed — eventually, we will end up here only, even work at factories that are dangerous for a little extra cash,” said Pooja.
At 65-year-old Shamshuddin’s house too, three days after he lost his wife Madina (55), the conversation revolves around the next mode of income. “My father is too old and three of my siblings are mentally ill. I work at a factory and don’t have the luxury to even grieve,” said his daughter Mubeena (30).