The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Life for a job in commerce hub

Mumbai, Oct. 4: Anand Dalvi, the former contract worker at Tata Power who set himself on fire in front of Bombay House yesterday, has died. Akhtar Khan, the other ex-worker who set himself ablaze, is not out of danger yet.

They were shifted to the special burns ward at Masina Hospital last night, shortly after which Dalvi died. He has left behind a family of five: his old mother, his wife and three children — two daughters and a son.

Yesterday, Dalvi and Akhtar, whose contracts were terminated in 1996 and who had been jobless since, set themselves on fire in front of the Tatas’ headquarters after they were reportedly told the company’s union would not negotiate on their behalf for a compensation package.

Their families claimed that they worked for more than 20 years as “temporary” workers on various projects of Tata Power.

Amina, Akhtar’s wife, spent a sleepless night in the hospital lobby. Her relatives have spared her the sight of her husband gasping for breath.

“I haven’t seen him, but they are telling me that he is constantly trying to say something. He was always worrying about the family and money, he must be thinking about the same things,” she says and breaks into sobs.

They have five daughters, who are with Amina’s mother in Bandra now. The girls have been told their father is seriously ill, but not brought to the hospital. The eldest is 14, the youngest 6. All of them go to school, except the eldest, who has been taken out because she is “old”. “They all go to English school,” says Amina. She, with the help of her daughters, is the breadwinner.

Amina makes her living by trimming lace. “For trimming 14 feet of lace, I get Re 1. All my daughters pitch in. Together we make Rs 30 to Rs 40 everyday.”

“My husband is a gentleman. He never quarrels. He told me he was going to the meeting, but he would see to it that the charter was not signed,” she said. Tata Power was to sign a wage agreement with the union yesterday giving its employees a raise.

Just before Akhtar left home, their landlord had thrown out their belongings from their rooms in a Chembur slum for non-payment of rent. They were asked to shift immediately.

But in the circumstances, the landlord has not renewed the threat. Amina’s brother has put back the belongings in their rooms and locked the door. He is also staying at the hospital.

Amina says the doctors told her Akhtar is better, though he is still critical with 60 per cent burn injury — in the abdomen, right arm and face.

The other 70-odd former contract workers who were with Akhtar and Dalvi are raising the money for treatment. They are trying to help Dalvi’s family, too.

“But we don’t have money to feed our own families. How will we look after others'” asks Digambar Niwarkar, another former employee.

A trade union organisation, Mumbai Mazdoor Sabha, has pledged to take up the cause of the contract workers.

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