Gutted but hopeful

The close to 2,000 people, who were left homeless following a fire incident in a Gurugram slum, have found a helping hand from their neighbours and other good Samaritans but problems remain

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Affected families standing on the ruins caused by the fire incident

At least 2,000 people were left homeless and over 200 shanties gutted after a fire broke out in a slum cluster in Ghasola village in Gurugram’s sector 49 on January 9.

The fire, which erupted at around 10 am, continued for 45 minutes.

Although no casualties were reported, residents in the area bore heavy losses of valuables such as important documents, refrigerators, TVs, cash, utensils and other necessities. Many residents lament that they will have to start their life from scratch, since everything they owned has been burnt down.

Even seven days after the incident, there are no signs of reconstruction of the shanties. Yet those who have been rendered homeless find warmth that comes from the community around in the cold season. Residents say that they have been helped immensely by their neighbours and good Samaritans, despite no support from the authorities.

“We do not really know when it will be reconstructed. We are facing a lot of difficulties but people here are showing up for help. We have received a lot of quilts and blankets from our employers. And then, many people living around have also set up a tent for us to live in. So, there is help from the community,” says Mohsin Mundan, who has lived in the area for three years.

Almost all the people in the slum area hold low-paying jobs like that of a caretaker, house-help, gardener and security guard. Majority of the families come from rural areas of West Bengal, with a small population from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

WATER SCARCITY: Residents bathing, washing clothes, and filling water cans from the single submersible available in the slum cluster

Sajan, a boy in his early 20s, now lives with his neighbours after his shanty was burned down.

“We all come from different areas, yet we have created a community here. We have known each other for years and it is incredible how so many people in the area showed up to support us during these hard times,” he says as he sits with his friends on a dilapidated sofa kept in the field near the shanties.

As families affected by the fire are now residing in their neighbours’ houses, there are certain difficulties that residents face as they support each other.

“Almost everything we owned has been burnt down. There were more than a single family living in one shanty and now these families have shifted to houses that have survived the fire. This has doubled the trouble that we had to face even on normal days. We do not have anything, so even the utensils we eat in are falling short,” says Mominul Islam, a resident of the area.

Good Samaritans in the area showed up the day the fire broke out.

Pankaj Yadav, a fitness trainer by profession, has been distributing food to the families as a gesture of goodwill.

“I am doing all this personally. Due to the nature of my work, I have many clients who come from wealthy backgrounds. I tell them about the incident and they help me with the money. I have been doing this for many years and wish to continue doing it for people,” he says.

However, Yadav says that he is running out of motivation now as many NGOs visit the affected area only to take pictures of his good work.

“I don’t mind when organisations come and take pictures of people. My problem is that many organisations come to my food distribution stall and take pictures without my permission. I never know how these pictures will be used. They can click pictures at some other place. I am not a part of any organisation and do not intend to be. If they are so concerned about these people, they must first help and then take pictures. I intended to distribute food for 10 days but now I am ending in seven days because of all this,” he adds.

On the day of the incident, almost all the adults in the area were out for work. Vinay Kumar, however, was present and helped in evacuation. Kumar bore the most loss as people, mostly children, ran to his farming area to protect themselves from the fire.

“I was helping in evacuation and taking out cylinders and other inflammables to contain the fire. But the kids in the area ran to the land where I grow vegetables to sell. The produce was ruined, and I am left with nothing. I don’t think I will be able to cover this loss,” Kumar says with tears. Kumar has been living in the cluster for almost 20 years.

Residents also complained about the delay in fire safety services.

SURVIVING THROUGH: Residents waiting for food to be served

“We informed the fire department about the incident the moment it happened. However, they arrived almost 45 minutes later. This [damage] could have been avoided had the fire officials reached early,” says a resident.

Fire officials told the media that they sent 18 fire tenders as soon as fire was reported.

While fire incidents have made the life of residents more difficult than it already was, families complain about lack of water in the slum cluster.

A single submersible pump serves as a source of water to almost 800 families in the area. The water is used for drinking, bathing, washing and other household work.

Families in the area say that sometimes, especially during summers, they are left without water for as long as three days.

“This is how we have been living and we have raised this concern to the owner many times but without any success. We are paying rent for these shanties. At least, we deserve basic amenities,” says Akash, a boy in his early twenties.

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Shehwaaz covers community, sexuality, gender, and other social issues for Patriot.