Ajay Hadshi’s (26) father, Sadanand, died of a heart attack while signing his mill muster in March 2000. He was only 50 when he left behind a young wife and two sons. There were no savings and no other earning members — just a 100-sq-ft room in a slum at Bhoiwada, Parel, which still shelters the family.
“For four years, he would sign the muster at Mafatlal Mill (Unit 3) every day after it closed in 1996 in the hope that he would get his dues and fund our education,” says Ajay, Sadanand’s younger son. Ajay has been fighting for his father’s dues for the last decade.
His father’s death scarred Ajay. “I scored 56 per cent in Class 10 and wanted to study further. But the day my father died, I changed my mind. I had no option,” says Ajay, who became part of the mill workers’ movement in order to realise his father’s dreams.
The period before 1996 was a golden one for Ajay.
“When the mill siren, the bhonga, would sound, all the workers would rush to Bharatama theatre to watch films. Today, we are fighting for the theatre’s survival,” he says.
Like Ajay, hundreds of mill workers’ children, who fell on bad days after 1990, could not get educated. Most of them, like Ajay, went to night schools and worked during the day to complete their basic education.
Today, Ajay, who makes ends meet by doing odd jobs, heads the youth wing of the Girni Kamgar Hakka Samiti. The Samiti helps children of former mill workers get jobs. This has become the sole purpose of his life.
“When the mills shut and redevelopment was proposed, we were promised housing through the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority and a job for at least one person in each family. But neither has materialised,” says Ajay.
“Now, we have prepared a list of children looking for jobs and those ready to employ them,” says Ajay. Most people become guards or peons or insurance agents.
His mother, Sangeeta (56), wants Ajay to find a job and earn some money — like her older son, who works with HDFC Bank and earns Rs 4,000 a month on which they run their home. She saw her husband struggle and is worried for her son, praying he doesn’t meet the same fate. “She is forever worrying. It’s not like I don’t earn; I try to pay the gas and power bills,” says Ajay.
Some day, he hopes, the mill movement will bear fruit and his family will finally live in a decent house. The signs are encouraging. “There was a meeting last week where we heard that Mafatlal Mill employees would get their dues,” says Hadshi as he scans biodatas of mill workers’ children, hoping he can at least secure their future, if not his own.