After the fire shock waves, back to basics in Mundka

Survivors begin job hunt, say they have to return to the factories to run their families

Survivors begin job hunt, say they have to return to the factories to run their families

In the fast lane of Delhi-Rohtak highway in outer Delhi’s Mundka, life has come to a standstill for several families whose loved ones were killed or injured in the massive fire that broke out at a four-storey commercial building in the area a fortnight ago .

Two kinds of searches have ensued after the fire tragedy – while some families are looking for the mortal remains of their loved ones who are still on the missing list, those who survived the devastation are back on the Rohtak Road, looking for a new job.

Among them is Ashu Ridlan, 22 – one of the last persons to escape the fire with the help of a crane – who worked at a Wifi router assembling unit in the building.

Mr. Ridlan called the fire the most traumatic incident of his life. “I remember two persons behind me who could not be rescued,” he said. Mr. Ridlan sustained several injuries on his hands and legs but his immediate concern is finding a job to manage his household. He applied for a few openings in the Ashok Vihar area in north Delhi but could not get through them. “I get anxious whenever I think about going back to those factories [in Mundka]but people like me who come from lower middle-class families don’t have much of an option in job opportunities,” he said.

Factories’ hub

Dotted with multi-storey buildings rising in all shapes and sizes, the Rohtak Road in Mundka can be described as a ‘small industrial township’ in the middle of a busy city. Several factories engaged in manufacturing glass, footwear, light electrical items among others operate around the highway, employing thousands of workers from nearby villages.

Dozens of e-rickshaws packed with workers make rounds of the Mundka factories from nearby places like Peeragarhi, Bakkarwala, Agar Nagar and Parvesh Nagar every morning from 7 am-10 am, charging ₹20 per passenger.

“Hundreds of young men and women gather at the Mubarakpur Main Road chowk every day and travel to the factories in e-rickshaws and buses. There has been no reduction in the number of workers after the fire incident,” said Shabir, an e-rickshaw driver at Mubarakpur Dabas village in Parvesh Nagar.

staying residents in the villages said they learn about job openings mostly through neighbors employed in different factories in Mundka. A number of the workers are women who joined the factories to support their families after the pandemic. Many of them were earlier doing multiple jobs, including that of domestic help.

For 18-year-old Reshma, a Class X passout who works at a unit manufacturing clothes drying stand, the factory job means a steady salary of ₹6,000 per month.

“My five-member family was struggling to make ends meet after the pandemic. I joined the factory to ease their financial burden. Some of the women who died in the fire were my friends; we used to talk on our way to the factory. I feel bad for their families,” said Ms. Reshma, adding that the building where she works has only one entry and exit gate on each floor, just like the premises where the fire broke out.

Chandrawan, 27, and Dhani Ram, 32, who work at an iron fabrication unit, said the fire incident has exposed the dangers of working in such factories. “Twenty-seven [the total number of deceased in the May 13 blaze] is not a small number. Our factory has three entry-exit gates but most of the other factories here hardly follow the rule,” said Mr. Chandrawan as Mr. Ram nodded in agreement.

Family profession

At Mubarakpur Dabas village, many families are fearing that strict action by the authorities against the factories, following the fire incident, may hit their jobs and livelihood. A resident, requesting anonymity, said at least 70% of the people living in the village work in the factories located on Rohtak Road.

“Most of the workers who died or went missing in the blaze were from our village. This place came up more than two decades ago and is an active hiring ground for the Mundka factories. Working there is like a family profession here,” said the resident.

Krishna Pal, husband of Asha Devi. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Asha Devi, 35, is among those whose bodies have not yet been identified. Her husband, Krishan Pal, said he is tired of making rounds of hospitals to get some confirmation on his wife’s mortal remains. “I have given up the hope of finding closure. Life has to go on,” said Mr. Pal, who recently joined duty at a shoe manufacturing unit close to the building where his wife was charred to death.


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