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Blast hero's family suffers in his absence

Vijay Singh | February 25, 2004 12:56 IST

By all accounts, Shivnarayan Pandey is the hero of the August 25 twin bomb blasts in Mumbai in which more than 50 people were killed: he is the only surviving witness to the terrorists' identity.

For this very reason, the Mumbai police fears for his safety and has kept him in such tight security that even his family does not know his whereabouts.

Pandey had disclosed that a family of two men and a woman had hired his taxi in suburban Andheri, northwest Mumbai, on the ill-fated day for sight-seeing and had asked him to proceed to the Gateway of India where they broke journey for lunch.

He decided to have lunch as well. As he was walking away from his taxi, he heard the blast.

Realizing the enormity of what his passengers had done, Pandey reported them to the police. It was based on his account that the accused were picked up and arraigned.

Pandey is the key witness on whose testimony the case will succeed or fail.

But there is a downside to his bravery. His sons Shivakant and Harikant lost their job after the blasts, and remain unemployed to this day. The factory owner for whom they worked, and for whom Pandey worked as driver as well, has no need for their services anymore. Family friends did try to refer the two men to other jobs, but given the enormous security threat over their heads no one really wants to go the extra mile and take them on.

The family has had a rough run since the blasts. Their mother, who lives in their village in Uttar Pradesh, called them back. For one, there was the threat they faced; for another, anyway they did not have a job to sustain them so she felt the family was better off in the village even though they owned only a meagre plot of land.

Even the Rs 500,000 awarded by the Shiv Sena to Pandey for his bravery, as part of the Mee Mumbaikar campaign, has not been utilized since he is in police custody. Technically, the family has access to the money but without the head of the family around to decide on its utilization it is as good as not being there.

Pandey's brother-in-law Sureshchand Dubey has kept in touch with the family. "Two months ago Shivnarayan went to his village on a 15-day trip, but his visit was very secretive. Even I got to know about it only after his return to Mumbai. Our relatives were very wary about his whereabouts and safety," he told rediff.com

There is bitterness among family members. Especially because local politicians had promised the two sons jobs, but there has not been any follow-up after that, leave alone a courtesy call.

Apart from the sons, Pandey has a daughter. "He had borrowed money for her wedding, maybe they should repay it from the reward," Dubey says. "When I spoke with him sometime back on the phone he told me he was worried about his children. If they settle down in a job he can relax a bit since he really had no problem staying with the police."

Pandey's sons are in their village, hoping, waiting for a new tomorrow. While the man of the moment, their father, worries about their well-being.

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