When Waseem Mirza (23) had recently gone home in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, his parents decided to get their eldest son married in the coming year. The youth succumbed to 60 per cent burns and suffocation after a fire broke out in a Sakinaka shop and gutted the ground floor structure in the early hours of Monday. Working with the farsan shop for six years, Waseem, who used to earn Rs 8,000 a month preparing farsan at the workshop, had called his younger cousin, Naim Baig Mirza (17), from UP six months ago to work with him. Both the brothers were asleep in the makeshift wooden mezzanine floor of the building with at least 20 other labourers when a suspected short-circuit led to the fire in the workshop killing 12 of them. Naim, whose body was found right next to Waseem’s, too succumbed to 60 per cent burns.
“I was watching the news of Gujarat elections on TV. There is so much interest around it. I didn’t even know a fire had broken out in the building until 9 am when a boy from our village called to ask how Naim is,” said Naseem Mirza, Naim’s father and Waseem’s uncle. Mirza works as a rexene dealer in Chembur. “I thought my eldest son would earn well, so I asked him to stay with Waseem.”
In the afternoon, the entire family in Gonda was informed about the death of the two young men. Waseem earned not just for his parents but also for two younger siblings. Mirza and Naim managed to send Rs 10,000 to the family every month. Waseem’s marriage had been fixed. “He was going to get married in July or August,” said a relative, Javed Shaikh.
The Sakinaka police arrested shop owner and farsan manufacturer, Ramesh Bhanushali, on Monday night and filed an FIR under various Sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 304 (culpable homicide), 285 (negligence with respect to combustible matter) and 337 (endangering life of others). Certain sections of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act were also brought in against him for cooking in the workshop without permit. “The BMC health department also said they had given no clearance,” said Navin Reddy, the DCP, Zone X. The Food and Drug Administration is going to conduct a separate inquiry into the permissions obtained by Bhanushali for cooking farsan in the workshop.
Most of the deceased were migrants from north India and their friends and families worried about transporting the bodies to thier native towns. With less than Rs 6,000 in hand, Arjun Gupta waited at Rajawadi hospital for his younger brother Ram Naresh Gupta’s body, asking everyone if the shop owner would provide transportation cost to take the mortal remains back home in Siddharth Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. He and his younger brother Dilip spent the entire Sunday in Kalyan with Ram, aged 20, before he left for the workshop late at night. “His friend called me after the fire broke out,” Arjun. Both Arjun and Dilip broke into tears every time a relative from their village called. While Ram worked in the Sakinaka workshop, Arjun worked for the same shop owner at a Kalyan workshop.
Ram had moved to Mumbai six months ago. The parents of the Class V dropout run a grocery store in Uttar Pradesh. “He did not want to study as none of his friends went to school. He insisted. He wanted to instead work with me in Mumbai,” Arjun said. Ram earned Rs 6,000 per month. He saved most of his income to send it to his parents.
According to doctors, the 12 persons were found lying together and it is suspected that they suffocated when the fire broke out on the ground floor. “Their bodies appeared to be in a resting position. Most must be only half awake and did not get time to escape, it seems,” a doctor said.
At least four bodies were charred beyond recognition. A tin shed had collapsed when the fire spread leading to blunt trauma injuries. Ram Naresh, a relative of one of the deceased, said: “We could not identify the body at first. We went again to recheck.” Two deceased remained unidentified till Monday evening. Two others, local people said, were migrants from Nepal. Shivnarayan Prajapati (19) was the sole earning member in his family. The Nepal resident started working in the farsan shop six months ago. His uncle, Guru Prasad Prajapati, said the family cannot even come to India.
According to a forensic expert who was part of a team that conducted autopsies, burn injuries were the primary cause of death of all the workers. “In some cases, suffocation also led to deaths, along with third degree burns,” the doctor said. The deceased had 60 to 100 per cent burns.
The doctor added one of the deceased, Jitendra, a migrant worker, suffered a crack in the skull because of heat. “It happens in extremely high temperatures. We term it as a head burst,” the doctor said.