At the night shelter run by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board at Ghitorni, three separate mats lay abandoned on the floor. One belonged to a labourer, Lokesh, the other two to his colleagues, Deepu and Anil. The few clothes and belongings they had were scattered nearby, unclaimed. The men were part of a pit cleaning project that took a fatal turn, with only Lokesh surviving the ordeal out of the three men. “They earned very little and had no possessions… All they had were friends like us and this night shelter to take rest in. We can’t believe they are gone,” said caretaker Prashant Saxena.
“On Friday night, they all had some alcohol; they were very happy… Anil used to repair borewells while Deepu took up jobs as a waiter or a daily wage labourer,” he said. Most of the inhabitants at the shelter, Saxena said, are yet to reconcile with the deaths of the two men. “What was inside the pit, we do not know,” he said.
Around a kilometre away in Chattarpur Pahari’s Ambedkar Colony, where several residents are in the borewell repair business, the 60-year-old mother of Billu said her son was the only earning member in the family. “On Saturday morning, he asked me to cook some chapatis. He was ready to eat, but he got a call from work, and said he would eat later… The food has gone cold now,” she said. Billu was the only unmarried one out of her four children, and both she and her husband used to stay with him. At Swarn Singh’s house, his ailing father said they came to Delhi in 1972. Swarn joined his father in the business of digging wells.
“Our business revolved around borewells — either fitting new ones or repairing them — and we never worked in a septic tank. The kind of smell that emanated from that pit suggests that some sewerage water had flowed inside it,” said the father. Tears welled up in his eyes as he recounted the tragic call about the fate of his son. “They said my son is unconscious and has been taken to a hospital… and then we heard that he was no more,” he said.