They Were Exploited, Locked Inside: Kin of Bawana Blaze Victims

They Were Exploited, Locked Inside: Kin of Bawana Blaze Victims


Barely 4 kilometeres away from the ill-fated factory in Delhi’s Bawana, where 17 people died in a fire on 20th January, residents of an entire colony mourn the loss of their loved ones. When one reaches Metro Vihar B-Block – home to the migrant labourers who work in Bawana’s factories – it’s hard to miss the sound of men and women wailing, still unable to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.

Kiran Devi, 42, is inconsolable after losing her 41-year-old sister, Baby, who had been working at the unit for five years. Kiran recollects that Baby complained about the working conditions time and again and had no option but to continue as she was the sole breadwinner for a family of four.

She used to return from work with her hands stained yellow in colour. I asked her, why are her hands this colour? She said, they handle colours and work with plastic. She also said she found it very difficult to breathe and her throat burns. She was planning on leaving but every time she kept delaying.
Kiran Devi, sister of a victim

Despite being on leave on 20 January (Saturday), Baby left for work by 9:30 am. She told her sister that working on Saturday meant earning Rs 200 in addition to the Rs 200 wage daily and if she refused work, the owner would deduct her wage from a weekday shift.

Eighteen-year-old Chanchal Kumari escaped death by an inch in the same inferno. Only because she and two other women, including her sister-in-law, protested the toxic environment inside the unit and left over half an hour before the ill-fated fire.

We reached the factory at 10 am and we were asked to start packaging the products. Some were weighing the products and some of us were packaging it. The colour from these items were staining our hands and we were inhaling it. I found it difficult to breathe and my stomach hurt, even our spit and urine was yellow in colour.
Chanchal Kumari, former worker at the factory

Chanchal didn’t know what was it that she and her colleagues were working with, she says she received no information from the owners or supervisor since it was her first and last day at the unit. She and her two other colleagues however, took their Rs 200 payment and left the factory by 5:30 pm.

Deepu Kumar, 19, alleges that his 17-year-old sister, who had been working at the factory for just about 45 days, would have survived had she not been forced to work a double shift.

Seventeen-year-old Rita Kumari was supposed to have left the factory by 5 pm but unfortunately, she was made to work a double shift on 20th January as well.

They used to tell the workers that if they didn’t work double shifts, their salaries would be deducted and they could even be fired from their jobs. 
Deepu Kumar, Rita’s brother

Forty-five-year-old Asha Sharma, who lives in the building next to the factory, raised an alarm immediately after the fire broke out at 6:30 pm.

I was cooking when I heard a loud sound, it sounded like a firecracker. We ran to the terrace and saw that there was a huge fire. A man standing on the terrace, jumped to the empty plot right next to the building before me. I called my husband and we rushed outside. The main door to the factory was locked.
Asha Sharma, eyewitness

None of the family members were aware that the workers were handling firecrackers inside the factory, despite the lack of licence for the same. Most of the workers too were unaware of this and believed, they were working with plastic and chemical colours only.

My mother used to tell us that they work with colours but on Saturday we found out that they used to work with firecrackers. Her hands and legs used to be yellow. She also told us that on Saturdays they used to lock the factory from outside. Despite it being a holiday, they used to pull a double shift, so just in case someone came by to check whether the factory was open they used to lock it from outside.
Mubina Begum, daughter of a victim

The Delhi police have now arrested Manoj Jain, who had allegedly taken the factory unit on lease and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised Rs 5 lakh compensation to the families of the deceased. However, most are still shaken and uncertain about their safety as they work in the many factories of Bawana.

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

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