Despite losing 4 sons, Kurungwadi village will keep sending more to Mumbai

The labourers who passed away at Kurla, belong to Kurungwadi, a village starved of employment opportunities that has been sending its men to work on Mumbai’s tracks

Yesterday morning, all hell broke loose on Kurungwadi, a small village, located 25 kilometres from Igatpuri district, after four of its residents died after being run over by a train between Kurla and Vidyavihar stations.

All children from Kurungwadi start coming to Mumbai once they hit their teens. Starved of any other source of income, these villagers have to work for railway contractors. Pics/Swarali Purohit
All children from Kurungwadi start coming to Mumbai once they hit their teens. Starved of any other source of income, these villagers have to work for railway contractors. Pics/Swarali Purohit

Located at the base of Kalsubai, the state’s highest peak, residents of Kurungwadi village have served as cheap labour for railway contractors for the past decade. However, even after four of them died yesterday morning after being run over by a CST-bound train, the villagers, who were at the Rajawadi Hospital to claim the bodies, said they will keep coming to Mumbai, since it’s the only employment option for them.

Chandar Sawant, Nana’s father, said Nana’s income helped the household to survive
Chandar Sawant, Nana’s father, said Nana’s income helped the household to survive

Haunted by repeated loss of crops due to excessive rains and lack of employment options, more than 250-275 villagers out of the total 1,000, are being used as a cheap labour by railway authorities, without being given proper accommodation. They are forced to stay in hutments along the tracks, which cost R250-300 a day. The four deceased labourers were working here for meagre wages since employment opportunities are bleak back home. They passed away yesterday at 5.30 am after being hit by a CST-bound train.

Kurungwadi’s sarpanch, Shankar Sawant
Kurungwadi’s sarpanch, Shankar Sawant

Split second accident
Budhha Kakade, who was walking right behind the deceased labourers, Shravan Ware (18), Kashinath Bage (19), Gokul Pokale (18) and Nana Chander (27), said that everything happened in a split second, and because it was pitch dark, nobody could see anything. The train did not flash lights either.

"We had to go to the other side of the tracks to our temporary hutments. They were walking a little ahead and suddenly, the train appeared. There was no light and the train didn’t honk. It just ran over them when they probably even failed to notice it," said Kakade. He then rushed to the hutments to tell other people about the accident. All of them then came to the spot and started looking for the bodies of the their colleagues.

"By that time, the police also came to the spot because the motorman informed them about the incident. We searched and found three of them. Bage’s body couldn’t be found so the other three were sent to the hospital immediately," added Telam. Bage’s body was found half an hour later, when his colleagues looked into an open drain in the middle of two railway lines, using flashlights from their mobile phones. "His hands and legs were visibly broken and he was unconscious. We got him out and sent him to the hospital," said Kakade.

Ramdas Telam, another Kurungwadi resident, also employed at Kurla, said they were working four hours a day. "We got a call from the contractor two weeks ago about the work. Around 25-30 of us came here and have been staying in a hutment located along railway tracks ever since. They offered us R300 a day and we had to bear eating and other expenses," said Telam.

All four of them were rushed to Rajawadi Hospital, but none could survive the impact. Doctors confirmed all of them had sustained severe injuries and were pronounced dead on arrival. Their bodies were later sent to the Rajawadi Post mortem centre. By that time, the labourers also informed their family members and village authorities about the incident.

Decade-old tradition
Kurungwadi’s sarpanch, Shankar Sawant, who had helped the family members reach Rajawadi, said that the youngsters of their village are left with no option but to come to Mumbai for work and this has been happening for over a decade now.

"Rains wash away our crops almost every year. And being a small village, with around 1,000 people, the employment options are very limited. Children study hardly till eight standard after which their parents ask them to look for work. Railways has been a prominent source of income for the children and youngsters of the village since more than a decade now," Sawant said. The village has been a prominent source of cheap labour for railway contractors since the villagers get ready to work at R250-300 a day and live in any state offered by the contractors.

Chandar Sawant, Nana’s father said Nana’s income helped the household to survive and he would come back home once in 15 days to give the money.

"He would earn Rs 3,000–4,000 out of which they would hardly spend something for eating and give everything back home. There is no work at the village, and he has been working as a labourer since eight-nine years now. All children start coming here from the age of 13-14," said Chandar. Nana was married and is survived by a 10-year-old son and two daughters, aged 5 and 3.

Similarly Mirabai Ware, relative of Shravan said that the families are solely dependent on the children for their daily bread. "Shravan was married recently and has a six-month-old daughter. Kids need something to eat and their fathers come here in the search of work," said Ware.

Gokul and Kashinath, who aren’t married, also came from families largely dependent on them. While the families got money from railway unions to bring the bodies of their loved ones home, when asked them if they would send more children to Mumbai even after the incident, they said the outflow will continue, no matter what.

"The village is mourning the death of our four children but that wouldn’t stop anybody from following the tradition. However, it would be better for us back home if the contractors could at least provide them with a roof and not throw them on tracks to suffer and die," said Yuvraj Sawant, one of the villagers.

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