One of two brothers choked in a septic tank and died in the prime of his youth. His ageing parents now face an uncertain future
Patriot’s series on manual scavenging continues with a visit to yet another family bereaved by this barbaric practice
Life was going quite smoothly for Vishal, 20, when he got admission in a BA programme in Delhi University — until his brother Angad, 24, developed a spinal tumour.
Since the boys’ father Birbal, 58, was the sole bread-earner in the family, Vishal was asked to look for a job. He got one in a bakery in Laxmi Park area in West Delhi.
While his brother was on bed rest after an operation, Vishal worked in the bakery. However, the Rs 7,000 per month he earned as salary was not enough, hence he took up the job of a pump operator at DLF Capital Greens, Gurgaon.
He was happy with his new job, it was getting him Rs 12,000 every month, and he could take offs on weekend and play cricket.
On September 9, when Vishal got a call from his supervisor asking him to come to work, he had to give cricket a miss. He didn’t know that this would be the last time he would see his family.
The job was different that day. He and five others were asked to enter a 15-feet deep tank of the posh neighbourhood. At first, Vishal and others refused to do so, but since they were under strict orders of the maintenance company they worked for, they reluctantly complied.
“Without any protection gear, with just one ladder for five people,” says Angad, 24, Vishal’s brother. Carrying rods and floor-wipers, two of the group (Vishal and Pradeep) entered the tank. Shortly the ladder was pulled out for the other duo.
“Vishal felt nauseous and thirsty so he asked Pradeep to bring some water. Since the basement premises had no supply of drinking water, Pradeep returned, only to see a shocking sight.
Inside the tank, Vishal could be seen choking at the bottom. He ran to make a call from the building’s landline to the technical staff. Although they came in no time and pulled up Vishal, the ambulance which was called to take him to the hospital had no oxygen cylinder.
“He walked up on his own to the van. I wouldn’t call it an ambulance as it had no oxygen system,” says Angad.
He was taken to Acharya Shree Bhikshu Hospital in Moti Nagar, but “he didn’t get proper treatment there,” added Angad.
Pradeep was with him until this point, but as he was told that since his breathing was also affected, he should clean up and inform Vishal’s family. He returned to the site of the incident and informed Angad.
Vishal was taken to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in the same ambulance to save time but two hours had already elapsed and by the time he reached the second hospital, he was not able to speak.
“He was receiving oxygen through some pipes there but the doctor told us that they could’ve done something if he brought a little earlier,” says Angad.
Angad says that all the parties in this case had their phone switched off when he tried calling them to ask about his brother. Vishal was pronounced dead at 6:20 pm.
Since Vishal’s death, the family’s single room with an attached kitchen has been in a shambles. A thick water pipe can be seen in the middle of the ceiling. “The roof is very weak; once we saw a hole in it and had to put up this pipe so that we have some protection,” says Angad.
The only son left in the family, he has studied BSc from Delhi University, but due to Vishal’s death, he has not been to focus much on the job hunt which has been on since last year.
Today, he spends most of his day studying for SSC exams, and takes care of his mother Parvati, 55. “She’s been in distress ever since he passed away. Almost everyday she recalls the time he was alive and after that she’ll stay sad for a long while.”
Parvati’s voice is clear but you could hear the cracks as and when she takes Vishal’s name throughout the conversation. “The moment he realised that his father cannot be the sole earner for the family, he decided to stand on his feet. He used to tell me to not to worry about his sister’s wedding,” says Parvati.
She says their father has worked hard as an electrician his whole life and managed to get his children a good education, and Vishal was on the right path but his fate was decided mercilessly by god.
An ardent fan of cricket, Vishal used to wake up early every morning to play with his friends in the nearby ground.He also loved swimming. Angad scrolls through Vishal’s phone which he uses now, and gets emotional as he showed countless pictures of his brother playing cricket, swimming and also from the site he used to work at.
“He had a pretty regular job. What happened was not expected at all. We never thought he’d be forced to enter the tank,” says an emotional Angad.
Their father, who has a diabetic condition, struggles with his work, earning about Rs 400 on good days from odd jobs as an electrician. But there is no assurance of work.
Although the family got the compensation Rs 10 lakh as per law, they’re still fighting a case in the High Court. Five people were arrested after this incident, with the burden of accusation on the supervisor of Unnati Engineering & Contractors.
Right after the incident, a blame game began. DLF (the developers) and JLL (the maintenance company) had put the blame on Unnati. Consequently, the director and supervisor were arrested.
However, Angad says that DLF is the main culprit. “It’s more than the money now, it’s about taking up responsibility and justice,” says Angad.
Apart from fighting their grief after Vishal’s death, the family’s current struggle is financial. Angad is preparing for SSC and his sister Satya has a Master’s degree in commerce but is still looking for a job.
“We were not offered any employment by the government or anyone,” says Angad. The fight is tough for him and his sister, whose marriage the family wanted to arrange last year. However, due to Vishal’s death, such plans are on hold.
Out of his mother’s hearing range, Angad says he worries most about his mother. “I don’t want her to go into depression or get too sad. She takes his name every day and starts talking about him. It affects her a lot,” says Angad.