Before Sangeeta Devi (46) left for work at 8 am Saturday, her 15-year-old son Sunny packed her lunch — three rotis and a bowl of chana. The class XI student had only two more days to spend with his mother as he was set to leave for Bihar, where he lives with his two siblings.
Hours later, Sunny stood quietly outside the GTB Hospital mortuary, where his mother’s body lay. She was one of the three labourers who died in the Shahdara factory fire.
“Our parents work in factories in Delhi and my two siblings and I live in a rented house in Patna. On the 15th of every month, our parents send us Rs 3,000 and another Rs 4,000 on the 25th of every month. I never imagined this could happen,” said Sunny, who came to Delhi for a month to visit his parents. Sangeeta’s other two children last visited her in March.
Sangeeta was being paid Rs 8,000 a month for pulling 11-hour shifts, six days a week. She moved to Delhi with her husband, a labourer, around nine years ago, and had been working at the factory for around five years, said her niece Nikki.
“Her body was covered in soot when I saw her lying on a bed next to the other two victims,” said Nikki.
On Saturday afternoon, as firefighters struggled to douse the fire at the factory, three heartbroken families sat outside the GTB Hospital mortuary.
Opposite Sunny stood 16-year-old Suraj, whose mother Manju Devi (42) died in the fire. The mother of five earned Rs 6,000 for doing the nine-hour shift six days a week and was a helper at the factory.
“Our father barely works and she was the sole breadwinner. She tried her best to fund our education, she paid for everything — from food to rent. Before she left from home this morning at 7.50 am, I asked her for Rs 100. In the afternoon, I found out she was injured so we rushed here only to find out she was dead,” said Suraj.
In another corner sat 19-year-old Shoaib Ali’s mother Rani, inconsolable after she saw her son’s body covered in soot. For the last two years, Ali had been working at the factory for Rs 10,000 a month, where he cut cash memos and managed accounts.
His father Wahid, a tailor, said, “Last night he was at a wedding… today he is dead… we only got a call at 1 pm about the incident. I thought he was injured, it’s only when I got here that I realised he was dead.”