WITH THE roof of their one-room shanty gutted, six-year-old Aksa Khan sat on the bed with her younger siblings doing homework. The Khans have lost most of their belongings in the fire that raged through Lalmati slums in Bandra West on October 31. All they could save were three notebooks and some utensils.
On Friday, as Aksa returned home from school, the Class II student told her mother — “I want new books.” Brother Parvaaz (5) has also lost his school bag and uniform in the blaze.
“Aksa’s half-yearly exams were on. She missed the last paper,” said mother Naheem. But what troubles Naheem more is that her children — aged six, five and two — are still in shock. “When she (Aksa) returned home from school on October 31, half of our belongings were charred. Their books were either burnt or soaked in water.”
In the adjacent shanty, now without a roof and only a charred wall, Class V student Alina Saifee missed two exams after the fire damaged her house. “There is no electricity. She could not study. We have requested the school to hold re-examinations,” said mother Firdauz Saifee.
Like Aksa and Alina, 183 more children have lost their books, uniforms and missed examinations, a survey by Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association (HALWA) showed.
These 185 children study in seven schools in the area — five of them municipal schools. On Thursday, the municipal schools collected clothes to donate to these children.
“They are facing trauma and are under shock right now. Soon, they will mourn and get angry before they reconcile with the loss,” said Shweta Damle of HALWA.
At least 10 of these 185 children have been counselled by the Institute of Exceptional Child to cope with the loss. More are set to be counselled in the coming days. “These children returned from school and found everything gone. They are concerned about their education. Food and shelter are the immediate concerns,” said Jasmine Khattar, a psychologist from the institute.
Prem Kumar Gupta, a Class VII student, was one of those counselled. On Friday, he wore a black jersey that his school had donated, the only clothes he now owns. “I was in school when the fire broke out. My mathematics, English and history books got saved as I was carrying them to school. All others were burnt.” His mother Lalita Bharti managed to save their identification documents, and the gas cylinder.
Prem took his last paper on computer on Thursday. “The computer book was burnt in the fire,” he said. His brother Aakash, a Class V student, has stopped talking since the blaze. “I don’t know how we will celebrate Diwali,” Prem said.
While official figures stated that 90 households were gutted in the fire, which is suspected to be the result of a short circuit, HALWA has estimated that 125 households were damaged. “There were houses on the first, second floors… Redevelopment has been an issue here for the past 10 to 15 years. The population density is high and redevelopment is not that easy. The land belongs to MHADA,” said Damle.
The Lalmati slum is a pocket in the larger Nargis Dutt Nagar slum. Several residents were offered compensation cheques worth Rs 5,000 each following the fire. “It does little to compensate us. There is no food, no roof over our heads,” said Shehnaz Shaikh, mother of Faizan and Aman who missed their final science exam on Thursday.
“How will I sit for an exam when my house has been damaged. I was here helping my family,” said Faizan, a Class VII student.