Most of those killed in the fire at a four-storey office complex in Mundka, West Delhi, on Friday were young women who had taken up jobs to support their families, particularly after the pandemic.
Of the 27 confirmed deaths so far, 21 were women. While only eight victims, including five women, have been identified so far, 24 of the 29 in the missing persons’ list prepared by police – who are feared to be among the dead — are women.
The building housed a company which manufactured, assembled and sold CCTVs and WiFi routers. Most of the women worked in the assembling unit or as helpers, earning a monthly salary of Rs 6,500-7,500, but were happy to be “independent”, their families said.
Among them was Pooja, 19, who started working around three months ago. Her mother, Gayathri Devi, and sister, Moni, spent all of Friday night at the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital, waiting for information about her. On Saturday afternoon, they were headed to the Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital by bus, hoping to be able to find her, but with no luck. The family of three is from Mubarakpur, and her mother and sister had not heard from her since she left for work on Friday morning. Neighbours had later informed them of the fire.
A day after the incident, friends and families spent their day looking at charred bodies and pieces of jewellery to try and identify their loved ones.
Meera Devi, whose eldest daughter Nisha, 18, is among those missing, said she started working soon after graduating from school.
“There’s no one to support us now. Nisha joined work last year and helped run the house. We never pushed her but she was the responsible one and understood our situation. Her father doesn’t work. She has five siblings who also don’t work. She would talk about her work often – she was stressed because of the workload but they were going to give her a raise. She earned around Rs 7,500 per month. We have been looking at the bodies but none of them is Nisha. Could she be alive?,” said Meera.
Nisha lived in Bhagya Vihar, where she and her neighbours started working at the commercial building as helpers. Many other women who are feared dead also lived in the nearby colonies of Nangloi, Mundka and Najafgarh. Nisha’s family said her friend Yashoda Devi had died in the fire.
Yashoda, 30, had been working at the office for four years. When she came to know about Nisha’s financial condition, she got her a job.
Julie Devi, Yashoda’s sister-in-law, said, “She stayed at a rented accommodation with her husband and three children. It was a strict workplace. Nobody could use their cellphones except during lunch hours. We tried to contact her on Friday but her phone was switched off. She would often go to the office with 4-5 girls who live nearby.” Yashoda is among the eight whose bodies have been identified so far. Police said the condition of the bodies was making identification difficult, and DNA tests would be required for more clarity.
Vishnu Kumar, who lives in Bhagya Vihar, held a crumpled paper with eight names written on it. He said, “We knew all the girls (on the list). They ran their houses and their families live in Bhagya Vihar. They were hardworking; I would hear stories about their workload and how their employers never gave them leave, but they kept working. We are poor people and would do anything to make our parents proud.”
Many of the women lived alone, and their families are now coming from states like Bihar, Punjab and Haryana to identify the bodies.
Sillu Devi, whose daughter Sweety, 25, too is missing, said she had arrived from Bihar. “Sweety lived with her husband in Bhagya Vihar. She didn’t need to work. Her husband has a small business, but she would always say that she wanted to send her two children to a good school. She would also send money to us. She was supposed to come to Patna and stay with me during the summer, but said she had work. I don’t know what to tell her father now. He still doesn’t know,” said Sillu.
Drishti, 26, who lived in Nangloi, is also missing. Her fiancé Aman Kumar has come from Ludhiana. “We got engaged in March and were supposed to get married in November. I have nothing left. She had been working in the sales department for eight-ten months and earned around Rs 10,000. We were all proud of her. She wanted to work after marriage and I supported her. She was ambitious, but lost her life because of the carelessness of her employers. There was just one exit. She could have been saved.”