A DAY after a fire raged through 6,400-square metre of the Damu Nagar slum in Kandivali, fanned by high wind speeds and multiple gas cylinder explosions, the residents of the 2,000-odd shanties that were burnt to ashes were left with little more than the bare minimum belongings they managed to flee with. But, as they began to assess the extent of personal losses, the biggest challenge before each family was the loss of official and government documents such as PAN cards, ration cards, birth certificates, school-leaving certificates and property papers. With no documents for identification, for these slumdwellers, it will be a long struggle to restore some normalcy in their daily lives.
For those who were in the process of finding employment after completing their studies, the process has come to a sudden halt — there are no certificates to produce.
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Ram Govind Gupta, for instance, had just completed his course in Company Secretariship (CS) and was preparing for his examination. “I lost my PAN card, driving licence, and my certificates. Without any of these documents, no one will agree to give me a job,” said Gupta. He asked whether the government would arrange for re-issuing of PAN cards and ration cards now since without any proof of residence, it will be next to impossible to re-apply for any other documents.
Pallavi Pujari, a transgender, was living with four others in a shanty in Damu Nagar. She came back to a house that was burnt to the ground. “We were all out and we were shocked to see the smoke when we came back home. That house is in no shape to live in. But without any documents, we won’t be able to rent another place. More than anything the government should help us get the essential documents,” she said.
A day after the fire was doused, most of the families were settling down among the burnt remains of whatever is left of their own homes, mainly in fear that others may take over their spaces.
Sumitra Sable sat among her burnt utensils and furniture with her son, daughter and two grandsons and said she has no plans of moving to another location. “We have lost gold, money and all identity cards. Even if I wanted to go to another house, I have no means to do so. We have even lost the papers to this room. If we stay somewhere else, someone will try to take over the place and we have no papers to prove otherwise,” she said.
While every family faced its own set of unique challenegs, most were grateful for having survived a fire that left nothing but mounds of ash behind. Lakshmi Dilip Jamadar, who is worried about taking care of her daughters and mother-in-law, made several trips on Tuesday to the counters set up for distribution of food and clothes. “Everyone keeps asking how much we lost. But at least we were able to save our lives. Where was the time to save anything else?” asked Lakshmi.
Like many others, Vijaya Tukaram Rase is hopeful that the government will help them start their lives all over again. “We will have to pin our hopes on the government since we have nothing else left. All that was left of my house is this iron bed frame which is the only furniture we can use,” she said.