At the age of 22, Chandrabhaga Bhikaji Rangate lost her husband, who used to toil in one of Mumbai’s many textile mills, in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement back in the late 1950s. Now, at the age of 81, Rangate is preparing to take possession of a brand new apartment, as a gift from the Maharashtra government in the honour of her husband. The house is in a high-rise complex at Mazgaon built on a sprawling plot that once used to be a textile mill.
The mill plots were leased out over 100 years ago for a paltry sum. As the mills were declared sick following the strike by textile workers, the government sold the land to make way for luxury apartments, commercial complexes and malls. The state had decided to allot houses to mill workers on a portion of this land at a highly subsidised rate through a lottery, while the kin of those killed in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement were to get free houses.
With the help of unions, the government had identified 23 such mill workers. However, despite making massive efforts in search of their families, the government could not locate any, save one widow who got the key to her free house in January 2013. It was only later that officials stumbled upon Rangate.
The octogenarian’s husband used to work with India United Mills No. 4 at Kalachowkie. Having lost her daughter to a disease soon after her husband’s death, and later her son, Rangate has been living with her nephew who is her only family now in his modest one-room house at Kolewadi village in the Satara district.
A housing department official who did not wish to be named said, “We had published advertisements in local newspapers throughout the state. The family responded and came to us with whatever documents they had to prove their eligibility. We sent the information to the textile department and labour department for independent verification.”
Earlier this week, the department dispatched a letter to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which was the agency in charge of constructing houses on plots of decrepit mill structures, asking the authority to allot a house to Rangate at the earliest.
At Kolewadi on Monday, Rajendra Awalkar, Rangate’s nephew, was pleasantly surprised to get a call from the housing department and learn that the family is actually getting a house in Mumbai. The official tried to himself convey the news to Rangate, but could not get his words through to her due to her hearing impairment brought on by old age.
“When I explained to her we are going to get a house in the big city of Mumbai, she was beyond happy. She is very excited about coming to Mumbai, staying there in her own house and seeing the city,” 47-year-old Awalkar said.
So far, of the 23 families, 71-year-old Rukmini Shinde, whose husband was also a mill worker who died in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, has been the only one so far to get a free house from the state government. After living with her brother in a 10×12 feet room at Gavdevi in Thane for years, Shinde for the first time moved into a high-rise in January last year after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan personally handed her the key to her 19th floor house at Mazgaon.