For the last 35 of the 52 years he lived, Chandulal Tandel sold books and newspapers at the A.H. Wheeler stall at the bustling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). In all those years, the curiosity to see her husband hard at work drew Pushpalata to the station from her home 80 km away just thrice. The last time was about a year ago – in a dream, from which she woke up crying. Tandel was gunned down by terrorists on the night of November 26, 2008 as he was downing the shutter of the shop.
A year later, Pushpalata says: “I can’t bear to enter the station. The sight of the stall only makes me imagine him at work, though I hardly ever saw him in reality.”
For similar reasons, Gangu Sakhare turned down a job offered by the Railways after her husband Sitaram fell prey to a stray bullet that night. However, the extended family of six that lives in a small room on the side of a foot-wide alleyway in the slums of Bainganwadi could ill-afford not to take up the offer. Her son, therefore, dropped out of college and now travels for two hours every morning to reach the Matheran station, where he works for a salary of Rs. 9000.
When Sitaram was alive, he would earn Rs. 900 every day as a load carrier on trucks in Navi Mumbai. Now, the household runs on the income of his son and the interest earned on the compensation money that lies in a bank in a fixed deposit.
“The job was a bigger help than the compensation, though,” says Gangu, “as it is a source of assured and regular income.”
Family members of most victims who died at the CST on 26/11 have started picking up their lives a year later thanks mainly to jobs provided by the Railways. According to Central Railway spokesman A.K. Jain, one member each from the families of 41 of the 52 people who died at the CST have been given jobs in the D category.
In the Tandel family, 25-year-old Bhushan has now been offered a job at the Mumbai Central station. However, everyone wasn’t as lucky.
For 22-year-old Bharat Navadia, starting a job any time soon is not a possibility. While a bullet went right through his wife Poonam’s head, killing her immediately, Bharat took one on his shoulder. He is unable to use that arm even a year later. For someone who once was a door-to-door salesman and used to carry a bundle of sarees and dress pieces on his head, the injury meant the end of his earning days.
It also meant an end to his dream of earning better. “Earlier, his daily income was Rs. 150-200, which would be spent on the same day,” says his elder brother out of Bharat’s earshot in their one-room house in a slum in Vasai. “That night, he was on his way to Kolkata, where he thought he would be able to save up more, as he would not have his parents to support.”
The case of Momina Sheikh is different. While her husband was killed by the same terrorists who went on a killing spree at the CST, it wasn’t at the same location. So she is not entitled to a job in the Railways. The Aman Council of India, an NGO working in the slums in Govandi, has now written to the Chief Minister, asking for a government job for Momina.
She was two months pregnant the night she went to sleep after seeing a taxi go up in flames on TV. She did not know then, but it was the same taxi her husband drove for a living. “He wanted a daughter,” she says. The couple’s last child turned out to be a boy like the previous three. “His wish remained unfulfilled,” she says and smiles tenderly .