With burnt homes and black water everywhere, Ambedkar Nagar looks like a post apocalyptic wasteland. Although the reports say that around 800 shanties were burned, the residents of the area claim that the number is much higher; they put it around 1,500.
Shravan Gandhi, a resident and driver by profession, said, “It has been more than a month and the government has done nothing to help us. Surveyors had come and registered around 540 huts as burnt. After which they went for lunch and never came back. The only thing the government has done to help us is to provide us with plastic sheets.”
The main reason behind the Ambedkar Nagar fire was the blast of cylinders. Most of the residents lost all their belongings in the fire, and those who had a few things left, pawned it so that they could rebuild their homes. “Even after a month, when nothing concrete was done by the government, we started rebuilding our huts, but now the government says that they will demolish the whole place; where will we go from here? We have erected these houses from bamboos, and the cost of each bamboo frame is Rs500. We have invested all the money we had. We had taken money against our jewellery to build our homes, but now we fear that after the elections the government will demolish our makeshift homes, where will we go then? What will happen to us?” said Gandhi.
While the unfortunate residents of Ambedkar Nagar still wait for some sort of government aid, thankfully there are people who have come forward to help them get their lives back to normal.
They have provided sleeping mats and some have even cooked food for them. Cynthia Demello of My Dream Colaba, an ALM, who helped the Ambedkar Nagar residents, said, “Most of these residents work as domestic help or as drivers in and around Colaba. They are an integral part of the society; it is because of them that we can function smoothly. Therefore, it is our duty to help them. They were completely helpless after the fire broke out–they had no clothes, no food and were in immediate need of assistance. We collected a lot of material in the form of clothes, food, blankets, and utensils and distributed to them.”
Another good samaritan is Ashok Rathod, who runs an organisation for slum kids called Oscar Foundation. Through the medium of football, it teaches children the importance of education and also helps tackle the problem of drug addiction, which is quite prevalent in the slums. Rathod said, “Many of the children, who are in the foundation, lost their homes in the fire, hence it was my duty to help these children. I tried to help the parents of these kids rebuild their lives. We helped in the relief work by distributing clothes, food, and utensils to the affected families. We also helped the government conduct their survey on how many shanties had burnt down.”
Pramod Kumar Gupta, a resident and daily wage labourer said, “Food was provided only for the first three to four days, then it stopped. It was the residents of the rich societies who came forward and helped us in our misery. They provided us with blankets and food. People from the GD Somnai Foundation provided us with food for quite a few days. We are very grateful to them–they helped us, when we needed them the most. The World Trade Centre even provided us with utensils.”
“Some helpful people even collected money to help us rebuild our homes, but since it was supposed to come through the government, we have not received anything. Each of us were supposed to get Rs10,000, but only a handful of families got it, and that too not the entire amount. When the elections come then the same politicians come to us but when we really need them, the politicians are not there to help us,” lamented Laxmi Raju, a slum dweller. Manish Kaunder, a daily wage labourer, points out, “We have also lost important papers and documents in the fire, like our voter ID cards, ration cards and various other certificates. This is a huge problem because we do not have anything to validate that we are the owners of the land,” said
As evident, these slum dwellers would have had to brave a far worse fate had it not been for the people living in the area.