Phool Singh (75) spent Sunday night unzipping bags with corpses. He had rushed to the mortuary at AIIMS Trauma Centre after being told that his son could be among the victims of the Lajpat Nagar sewer deaths. One by one, he unzipped the bags with trepidation, till he reached the tenth. Inside was his son’s body. The 22-year-old, Mohanlal, was among the three men who died after ‘inhaling toxic gases’. On Monday, mourners gathered at their Kalyanpuri home, huddled under a yellow tarpaulin cover that provided them scarce protection from the rain. Apart from his parents, Mohanlal left behind his wife and two children — a one-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter. His wife, Preeti, held his portrait, mindlessly running her fingers across it. She sobbed, recounting how her husband used to “smile for each photo”. “What do I tell our son,” she said.
While Mohanlal had cleaned sewers before, he wasn’t experienced, she said, asking why there were no safeguards to protect him: “They clean the filth left by people of this city. Shouldn’t there be rules to safeguard their lives?”
Nearby, Phool Singh sat alone, having just returned from his son’s cremation. He was drenched, but didn’t seem to realise it. He said his son was the sole breadwinner. “Our other sons moved away… Who will look after us?” he said.
The others who died were 32-year-old Jogindar and 25-year-old Annu. Both were related to Rakesh, the only one to have survived Sunday’s incident. Jogindar’s death weighs especially heavy on his head. Jogindar, Rakesh said, was his nephew and had stayed with him for seven years, before moving out last year.
“He approached me on Saturday, saying he needed work. He said he had been told to move out, and was staying under the Khichripur flyover. I decided to call him for the job… now he is dead,” Rakesh said.