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'Why can't the government do justice to us?'

By Prasanna D Zore, Reuben NV
July 17, 2015 12:44 IST
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Two families grieve the death of Pradeep Maruti Gade, one of the 104 victims of the Mumbai hooch tragedy.

Text: Prasanna D Zore and Reuben NV; Photographs: Reuben NV

Sangeeta Gade with her mother Ramabai at whose residence the family has been staying after Sangeeta's husband passed away

Image: Sangeeta Gade with her mother Ramabai Purde.

"The one who should have died is still alive; the good one who earned for the family died," laments Ramabai Purde as she points towards a photograph of her grandson Pradeep Maruti Gade.

The one Ramabai curses is her brother Ganesh, who she says is unemployed, drinks a lot and beats her up.

Pradeep, a house painter, would earn Rs 500 daily and wanted to marry off his sisters Sadhana and Manda who is hearing- and speech- impaired.

Pradeep was 27 when he died June 19 after drinking spurious hooch in Malvani, a tragedy which claimed 104 lives in this Mumbai suburb from June 18 to 21.

A broken Ramabai, and an equally broken Sangeeta -- Ramabai's daughter and Pradeep's mother -- are shattered. With Pradeep's death their only hope for better days has vanished.

The Gade family lived with Ramabai, the only one in the family with a house of her own. Sangeeta's husband died soon after her youngest child Manda was born. A decade before that, Ramabai had become a widow.

"First my mother lost her husband, then my sister too became a widow," says an angry Tara as if cursing the men who died leaving behind their wives to fend for themselves. Tara is Ramabai's younger daughter. She has traveled from Sarjepur village in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district to grieve with the family after Pradeep's death.

"Pradeep was such a good person. He was a hard worker," his aunt Tara says. "He shouldn't have died so young." Tara's son Ramesh performed the last rites for his cousin.

When Pradeep came home June 17 night he was drunk. "After his meal he went to sleep without talking to anybody," says Ramabai who raised all the children in the house as Sangeeta, a maid, would spend most of her time away from home making a living.

The next morning he woke with severe pain in his stomach and chest. He vomited thrice. The family panicked after he started sweating, complained of chest inflammation and suffered a seizure. He was rushed to the Shatabdi Hospital where he died early on June 19.

"He was not a habitual drunk," his mother Sangeeta says. "He would not even step out of home when he had no work. I don't know what sin I had committed in my past life to face this pain and misery."

***

From left: Pradeep's cousin Ramesh, his sisters Sadhana and Manda, Sangeeta and Ramabai

From left: Pradeep's cousin Ramesh, Pradeep's sisters Sadhana and Manda, mother Sangeeta and grandmother Ramabai. Inset: Pradeep Gade

To add to the family's misery, local revenue officials have withheld the compensation of Rs 100,000 the Maharashtra government announced for the deceased, saying they want to hand it over to Pradeep's wife Ratna.

"That woman ran away a week after marrying my grandson," says Ramabai, voicing her scorn for her daughter's daughter-in-law. "She went out to answer nature's call and has not returned," says Sangeeta. "We don't know where she stays or where to look for her."

Unless the Gades produce Ratna before the revenue officials they will not get the Rs 100,000 cheque. And they don't know where to look for Ratna.

"Had she stayed with my grandson he would never have taken to drinking. He would have become a family man," says Ramabai, blaming Ratna for her grandson's drinking.

"The government does not help the poor. It is meant only for rich people," says Ramabai, the most vocal in the family. She fails to fathom why government officials want to hand over the cheque to Ratna when she has apparently abandoned the family.

"With that Rs 100,000 we could have at least got this girl married," she says, pointing towards Manda.

"Who will marry this hearing- and speech-impaired girl?" she asks mournfully.

"We just eat bhakri. We are poor but work hard to earn our living. Why can't the government do justice to us?" she asks.

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