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Drained of life

An old couple, who lost their sons to manual scavenging, now cling onto their only source of happiness — their grandchildren

Patriot’s series on manual scavenging continues with a visit to yet another family bereaved by this barbaric practice

“I can control my destiny, but not my fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street. I believe we all the choice as to whether we fulfil our destiny, but our fate is sealed,” said novelist Paulo Coelho.

However, Kesar Jahan could neither get control over her destiny nor her fate. Her two sons, Ijaz and Jahangir, died while cleaning a sewage tank at Aggarwal Fun City Mall in East Delhi on August 12, 2017.

Jahangir, 30, and Ijaz, 25, were given the work of cleaning a tank by a private contractor. Their father, Yusuf, 51, was also helping them.

The two brothers spent hours cleaning the tank, while their father waited outside. There came a point when he could not hear their voices. That is when he got worried and decided to check on them. But while trying to get inside the tank, he fell on his knees.

A fireman came to the spot as someone shouted for help. But he too went inside and collapsed because of the poisonous gases emanating from the tank. Another fireman rushed to the spot and took out the bodies.

Jahangir died on the way to the hospital and Ijaz too, lost his life, leaving the family in a state of shock and with no hope to live.

Today, their father is working in the same conditions, near the mall where his sons lost their lives.

But he doesn’t take work which requires cleaning the tanks. The incident left him with a weak heart, making life tougher for him. He works for more than 12 hours and was not at home when Patriot reached there.

Yusuf and Jahan have seven grandchildren, three from Jahangir, two from Ijaz and the other two from their daughter. Jahangir’s wife and daughter are currently in Bihar for some family commitment.

“He can’t do work which requires picking up heavy stuff. He talks less as he can’t speak much now due to his heart condition” says Jahan, his wife.
She adds that there’s not a single day when he can work without taking his medication. Every other day, they have to visit a doctor to get his blood pressure checked. Buying medicines is another financial burden for them. At times, they end up spending Rs 800 on medicines.

They stay with their grandchildren and two daughters-in-law in a crammed house near Shalimar Garden in Ghaziabad. Half of their lane comes under Delhi and the other half in UP.

Their house barely has space for more than three people – it has a huge bed, a white mat on the floor and green walls with several scenic posters.
“You must be wondering why there’s no picture of our sons on the walls,” says Jahan. She goes on to tell that it’s because of a belief, which says that it is not healthy for the kids to see photos of their father who they lost at such a tender age.

Just like Yusuf, she also goes to a place where all the garbage from weddings and other ceremonies is dumped every day and then segregates the garbage into various bins.

When the two sons died, the family barely had money for the funeral. “Some relatives helped us. That day I realised what little we have left for our grandkids,” says Jahan.

The compensation money of Rs 10 lakh, which the family received from the government, was helpful. The court directed the owners of the mall to pay Rs 18 lakh as compensation, which was equally divided between the two daughters-in-law.

“We bought some properties for our grandkids. So that they won’t have to face the same situation as their father. They should lead a clean and happy life,” says Jahan.

One property was bought in East Delhi and another one in Bihar, where Jahangir’s in-laws parents live. However, she proudly says that whatever work her two sons did in their life, they did it with utmost sincerity and always contributed to the family.

Yusuf and Jahan have another son, but the family has little to do with him, especially after the deaths.

“He didn’t give a single penny when we were in need for money for the funeral. In fact, even that day he was smoking up ganja from the money I had given him earlier,” tell Jahan.

Not knowing that the practice is deeply rooted in the society since ages, she takes it as a given that the sons were supposed to do this work and does not put the blame of their son’s death on the evil of manual scavenging.

She blames no one — neither the government, the society, the contractor nor the owners of the mall. She blames destiny for the demise of her sons.

“Sab kismet ka khel hain. Agar achhi hai toh tum achhe, aur agar buri, toh aisi ghatnaye ho jaati hain,” she takes a long pause, and continues, “Humein kisi ko dosh nahin dena. Sarkar ne humein muhawza de diya ab aur maang rakh ke mujhe apne bacho par kisi ki haaye nahi chahiye.”

(It’s all how destiny plays out. If it’s good, you’d be good, and if it’s bad, then such incidents happen. We don’t want to blame anybody. The government gave us money and now by asking for more, I don’t want to bring hate to my sons).

Taking care of their children gives them a reason to live. “We didn’t even take a single penny from the compensation. We don’t have much time left,” says Jahan.

“Parents also die from within when they lose their children. Apart from taking care of our grandchildren and spending time with them, I don’t think we have anything to look forward to,” tells Jahan.

The responsibilities are immense — more than what they were earlier. The earnings are erratic. Sometimes the couple earns Rs 300 a day and on a few lucky days — when there’s a big wedding — they end up making Rs 1,000.

There are times when she really wants to blame somebody for it, but “what will I get from it,” she asks as starts crying. “These innocent kids should not invite hate on them. Maybe this was God’s plan I believe that Allah is with us and hope that Jahangir and Ijaz always stay happy,” concludes Jahan.”