On Saturday nights, when Mumbai’s party set lets its hair down, 830 kilometers away in one of India’s poorest regions, fear overwhelms Ramalu Pindi. He is terrified that revellers in a fast car will run him over.
“On other days I am fine, but on Saturday nights even before I close my eyes, I can hear a fast car with loud music in the background. Then it changes into familiar screams,” Pindi said after HT tracked him to his two-room home in Kollampalli village in Andhra Pradesh’s Mehbubnagar district.
A thin, hesitant man, Pindi was maimed when Alistair Pereira, 21, who was allegedly drunk, lost control of his Toyota Corolla on Bandra’s Carter Road on the night of November 12, 2006. Seven homeless workers died and eight were injured. All the victims were Pindi’s friends and family. He had migrated with them, as thousands of young folk have done in this dirt-poor area, to Mumbai for six months every year for the past 18 years.
Six of the seven who died were from Mahbubnagar, where about 40 per cent of the population joins the great, faceless migration to Mumbai every year. They live either in slums or on pavements and power the metropolis’ construction boom — building roads, apartment blocks, flyovers, railways and other infrastructure.
There are more than 2 lakh construction workers in Mumbai, according to a rough government estimate, but it is never enough. “Developers have been complaining that construction companies cannot meet the demand created in the new development boom,” said Pranay Vakil, chairman of Knight Frank Property Consultants.
Pindi does not know that Pereira was sentenced on April 13 to only six months in jail, though he was present in the Sewri Sessions court when the trial was on. He does not know of the public outcry against the flawed police investigation, the legal debates on TV, the police decision to appeal the verdict.
Pindi’s right side is paralysed. He cannot work. He has medical bills to repay. He has five children between the ages of three and 13, and a wife who is furious at the verdict. “Those rich fellows have gotten away with murder,” she said. “I have to take care of my husband. He’s like a child now since he cannot even bathe on his own. I have children. Should I work or sit at home and look after them?”
Kollampalli’s drunk-driving victims collectively got Rs 60,000 from Carter Road residents and Rs 30,000 from their contractor. All the money has been spent on repaying loans taken for marriages, funerals and medical bills.
Two other survivors in Kollampalli, both old women, share lonely, uncertain lives.
Papaamma, 65, lives in a hovel. Her son, Raju, is dead; her daughter-in-law Lachamma was five-months pregnant when Pereira’s car killed her. Papamma does odd jobs in the fields and in return gets lunch, not money. “I am too old to work in the fields so nobody wants to employ me,” she said. Her assets are a dozen steel vessels. She cannot afford electricity and her house in engulfed in darkness. There is no soot on the chulha. It has not been used in months.
Then there’s Enkamma who lost her son Timmana Lodha, daughter-in-law Mariamma Timmanna and grand-daughter Kavita Timmanna. Enkamma has to care for her handicapped 11-year-old grandson, Ashappa Gaji. He cannot walk, talk or eat on his own. Enkamma has one hope in life now — that her grandson does not have a long life.