The heroes of the Mumbai high-rise fire: It's always 'those people' who come to our rescue

Like in the AMRI fire in Kolkata, in the massive blaze in a high rise in Mumbai's Chandivali area, it was people from the neighbouring slum who were the heroes.

Rohini Chatterji June 09, 2015 07:27:36 IST
The heroes of the Mumbai high-rise fire: It's always 'those people' who come to our rescue

The death toll in the massive blaze, in a high rise in Mumbai's Chandivali area, stands at seven and there are 18 others who were injured.

The fire started following an explosion in the compressor of an AC on the 14th floor of the 21-storey residential building and soon spread to the upper floors due to presence of combustible materials like wooden furniture and foam in flats.

And of the seven who died, three were not residents of the building, they were just good samaritans from neighbourhood slums who took it upon themselves to go in and help the residents.

The heroes of the Mumbai highrise fire Its always those people who come to our rescue

Representational image. PTI

The Indian Express reports, "When 28-year-old Tausif Shaikh’s body was being taken for burial from Munna Bhai Seth chawl in Powai, the entire neighbourhood, with close to 300 people, and more from nearby chawls, stood outside his one-storey house talking about his ever-ready nature to help out people — the trait that led to his death Saturday."

Along with Shaikh was electrician Ankush Pawar and driver Babu Lohar who also lost their lives while saving the residents.

Lohar’s neighbour and friend Sunil Ludge was quoted by The Indian Express as saying, "The watchmen just stood and watched helplessly. It was because of these three men and a few residents that more lives were not lost."

What makes the death of these three people stand out like a sore thumb is the fact that, usually, we like to keep such people out of our homes and gated communities.

Visit any gated society or an apartment complex in any city across India, and you will see standing at the gates a volley of security personnel — from the main gate to the lobby — who screen the people who can actually make it upstairs to your home. While it is absolutely necessary to have security, there is always a classist tinge to the way people from the lower strata of society are treated at such buildings.

In such societies, women and men who work as house helps and drivers and cleaners, are usually from nearby slums. For them to be able to work in your home, they have to go through a police verification, get proper identification so that they can come to work. Mostly these people have lived in the area from long before the fancy new buildings have come up. And as has been seen in the past, it is these people who rush to your rescue when there is some trouble.

Remember the fire in Kolkata's AMRI hospital that had killed almost a hundred hapless patients because of lack of action by the authorities? Well, the death toll would have been much higher had boys from a slum near the south Kolkata hospital not taken it upon themselves to save the patients.

The boys in question had woken up to the cries of help from patients of the hospital. They reached the place much before the fire brigade. But guess what? The hospital authorities, while doing nothing to get the rescue process running, had stopped the boys from entering the hospital. Why? Because they were slum dwellers, and they had no place walking around in one of the high-end private hospitals of Kolkata.

The Hindu had reported, "At the rear of the smoke-engulfed building, some patients smashed the glasspanes and secured bed-sheets on the window sills to escape the toxic smoke which started building up in the wards... As the situation got out of hand and pleas for help grew more desperate, the boys tore down the boundary wall of the hospital and cut through the barbed wire fence to gain entry."

The boys helped carry out patients from the blazing building, a slightly more difficult task than a normal fire where people can actually walk out.

CNN-IBN had reported that they carried out patients who had been operated on only the night before and they were bleeding. As the staff of the hospital had just fled to save their own lives, it was these men who stayed back to help even after the firemen arrived.

"They initially did not let us in, the staff left in fear. Only a couple of nurses helped us," one of them told CNN-IBN.

They had even said that had the security guards at the hospital allowed more people from the slum to come in, more life could have been saved.

The men who saved lives in AMRI were called brave hearts and the three who lost their lives in the Chandivali fire will also be hailed for their bravery. But the government, or the residents of the upscale apartment, are unlikely to do something to reward their families - all three of them were the sole bread earners.

While they were the ones to come to the rescue during the fires, the slum dwellers neither have the luxury of living in an apartment like Lake Homes, nor can they afford the kind of health care that AMRI had to offer. In fact, those who had actually dared to seek help in AMRI during medical emergencies were turned away like stray dogs.

On the other hand, rarely have we heard of instances where middle class people bothered to step out of their homes when slums nearby caught fire and were razed to the ground. Maybe if we treated them with more respect and empathy, the class angst that exist in big cities and lead to several skirmishes would be dissipated.


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