Although the death of 106 people after consuming spurious hooch in Malwani last year swung the police and excise department into action, it hasn’t dissuaded the local residents from consuming liquor.
One of them is Ramchandra Arijan, who works as a cleaner with the civic body and was among those hospitalised after drinking the poisonous concoction. “I don’t drink as much now. I ensure the liquor has government licence,” said Arijan. “He cannot stop drinking. He has just switched to country-made liquor,” said his sister. “There is a fight every day. Even after getting a new lease of life, he does not care enough,” said Arijan’s mother-in-law Jyoti Saket, who lost her husband to the tragedy.
A little away from Arijan’s house, the Kanojias are to come to terms with the loss of their sons Dinesh and Kamlesh. The family moved to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh three decades ago. The duo worked at an incense stick workshop and a scrap-dealer’s warehouse. After their death, their father Ram Dular has set up a pan shop. Kamlesh’s widow Anita has started a makeshift tea-stall to add to the meagre family income. Dinesh’s wife Poonam works as house help. The future of their eight children seems bleak. “My sons did not drink hooch on a daily basis. That day [June 18, 2015], they went for a get-together with friends. Bhagwan ko hamare ghar se kisiko lena hi tha, ek ko toh baksh deta [God could have spared at least one life from our family],” said Ram Dular.
While the family got Rs2 lakh compensation, which they have invested for the children’s education, the major worry is the safety of the children. Theirs is the only house in the lane surrounded by workshops. Local residents complain of drug addicts strolling around, which is another issue after alcoholism. “We have enrolled the children to a school in Gujarat. They should not grow up here,” said Sonu, Dinesh’s mother.
“He gave his family more in his death than in life,” said a neighbour of Hari Kamani’s widow, referring to the Rs1 lakh compensation the family got after the tragedy.
Several affected families have moved out of the slums, with most women taking up their husband’s jobs or working as house help.
Pinki Kamani is one of them. With her two-year-old son tied to her waist, Kamani works at five households in the area. She earns Rs3,000 a month, of which Rs1,000 goes for the house rent. “I have loaned half the compensation to an auto driver. The rest is in a bank. I need the money for my child’s future,” said Kamani.
Among the families of the victims lives Mainawati Mudaliyar, the mother of Mamata Rathod, who was arrested in the case for selling hooch. For other women from Rathodi, Mudaliyar is not the mother of an accused, she is just a neighbour who looks after her daughter’s children -- eight-year-old Rakesh and a five-year-old girl Preeti. Mudaliyar works for a clothes pin unit and earns Rs30 for every sack and is often helped by her neighbours in completing the assignment.
After Rathod’s arrest, Rakesh had to drop out of school. He has high fever, but Mudaliyar has little money to get him medicines.
The family of Raju Tapkar, another accused, lives in the same house, from where he was arrested. His son Satish, 18, lives there with his mother Madhavi, who is speech impaired. Satish collects scrap material from the area, while his mother does odd jobs.
The Malwani police station is a few minutes away from the slums. The police admit their counselling sessions for those who survived the incident have proved to be futile. Explaining the reason behind the failure, Airjan said, “While cleaning sewage, we have to get into filth. The alcohol allows us to do our job, which is impossible otherwise.”