In a settlement near Mundka, several houses of mourning: “The tragedy has swept everyone here”
A mother of three, Mushrat (37), started working in the CCTV camera and router manufacturing company last year – the first time she took a job – for a salary of Rs 6 500, packing and marking stickers on the cameras. At his maternal home on Sunday afternoon, his mother Sabra Khatoon and brother sat sadly after making rounds in an attempt to identify him among the bodies at Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital.
Mushrat sought work to support her family after her husband’s laundering job for daily wages was hit during the pandemic. Like other women in Bhagya Vihar, she got the job through a referral from a neighbor who was also killed in the fire. “Her husband had gone to his village in Odisha for a few days, so I was staying with her at their house in Parvesh Nagar to keep her company and take care of my grandchildren. I last spoke to her when she left for work,” Sabra Khatoon said.
Located less than 5 km from the building in Mundka, Bhagya Vihar painted the picture of a bereaved colony. Of the 27 confirmed deaths, 21 were women. Of the eight victims identified to date, five were women. Many of them were from Bhagya Vihar.
Among the eight identified on Saturday, two women from the settlement – Ranju Devi (34) and her distant relative Yashoda Devi (35) – lived in adjacent lanes, with a few dilapidated houses separating theirs. Outside the two houses, a white tent had been erected while neighbors and relatives mourned.
Ranju’s husband, Santosh, a laborer, said: “We clung to the faint hope that she survived. Yesterday we went to the hospital and identified his body by his silver ring, anklets and nail paint. She wore a blue suit and eggplant dupatta that day. His body was partially burned.
Ranju is survived by her husband and three children – a 15-year-old daughter and two sons, aged 9 and 12. She had worked at the camera assembly unit for more than six months, earning Rs. 6,500 per month. “There is no one left to take care of the children. Previously, she worked on a contract at a syringe manufacturing company, where she was paid around 3,000 rupees and often less, depending on the weight of the assembled load. She joined here because it was a better paid job closer to home. It helped us pay our rent,” Santosh said.
Just 100 meters away, Yashoda’s brother Surjit said: “Her husband and other relatives went to Haridwar for the last rites. Yashoda worked in camera printing and earned between 6,500 and 7,000 rupees. She had given the referral to many women in the colony and helped them find employment with the company. They all went to work in shared buses or autorickshaws. We are all distraught.
Yashoda’s friend Poonam said, “We are all in mourning. I don’t know what I’m going to do to survive. In the midst of all these losses, I am unemployed. Tragedy has swept everyone here. She said she had survived since taking two days off because she was not feeling well.
A few doors down from Yashoda’s house, the grief in the home of 18-year-old Nisha was quiet but desperate. Her family were unable to identify her body, but they presumed she died in the fire. Nisha, with her salary of Rs 7,500 per month, was the sole source of income for her parents and seven siblings. Her father hadn’t worked in almost a decade and her mother was anchored at home by a sickly 10-year-old daughter and a two-month-old baby.
In the alleys of the small houses, theirs was the smallest and barest – a family of nine living in a one-room house, the ceiling fan attached to the tin roof barely higher than 6 feet from the ground. . Nisha had not finished her studies and had started working two years ago.
“She had called me during lunch break that day to ask me what I was eating…She was working because she had to and she was only thinking about supporting her family. A relative of hers had recently talked about getting her married, but she said she needed to earn some money for her family. She wanted to be able to find them a better house, it gets flooded every time it rains,” said Nisha’s close friend Pinky Kumari, who also works at Mundka.
In the same alley, two doors down from Mushrat’s house, Sweety alias Mona (32) is still missing. Family members said they had stopped looking for his body in hospitals. “Umeed lag nhi rhi bachne ki (We don’t have much hope),” her husband Manoj Kumar said, sobbing as he spoke.
“At 4.30pm that day she called and said ‘aag lag gyi hai…nikal nhi paa rhe eh (I can’t escape the fire). His voice was unclear. After that the phone rang,” Kumar said.
Sweety, who had two children – a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son – had started working at the company last year. “It was his first job. We have always filed a missing person complaint with the police,” Kumar said.
Sweety’s friend Shazia Parveen (25) lives down the road. Parveen survived, jumping after grabbing a rope and suffering burns to both hands, which were heavily bandaged. “I barely managed to escape and passed out. I saw Sweety passed out in front of me. There was so much chaos,” she said, her voice cracking.
Mother-of-three Parveen said she started working at the company two months ago: “The pay was better and we were told it would increase in a few months, with added benefits like PF . The office was close to the colony. Many women had been connected here through this work, and now through this tragedy.