Huge fire at New Delhi handbag factory kills 43 workers

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A relative of a victim of a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, cries outside a hospital mortuary in New Delhi. (Reuters)
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Police stand guard as onlookers gather near the site of a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, in New Delhi. (Reuters)
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Ambulences and a firefighting vehicle at the scene of a deadly New Delhi fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping. (ANI via Reuters)
Updated 08 December 2019

Huge fire at New Delhi handbag factory kills 43 workers

  • No details immediately available on the cause of the fire
  • Delhi state government to conduct a probe and action taken against those responsible for the fire

NEW DELHI: A fire believed to be caused by an electrical short circuit engulfed a building in India’s capital on Sunday where handbags and other items were made by workers earning as little as 2 dollars per day, killing at least 43 people.
The blaze in New Delhi’s Karol Bagh neighborhood, a warren of narrow alleyways with electrical wiring strung helter-skelter, was the second major fire there this year. In February, 17 people were killed in a blaze that started in a six-story building’s illegal rooftop kitchen.
Karol Bagh contains the city’s largest wholesale market for household goods, known as Sadar Bazaar. The area’s aging buildings are stacked with apartments, shops, storage facilities and manufacturing units.
Assistant New Delhi police commissioner Anil Kumar Mittal said that “the fire appears to have been caused by an electric short circuit,” adding that authorities were investigating whether the factory was operating legally. Building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi, making fires common.
The building’s owner, Rihan, who goes by one name, was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Mittal said.
Firefighters had to fight the blaze from 100 meters (yards) away because it broke out in one of the area’s many alleyways, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access, authorities said.
A resident of the area, Mohammed Naushad, said he was woken by people wailing at around 4:30 a.m. He went outside to find smoke and flames shooting out of a building near Sadar Bazaar. Inside, he found the fourth floor engulfed in flames. One floor below, he saw “20 to 25 people lying on the floor.”
“I don’t know if they were dead or unconscious, but they were not moving,” Naushad said.
He said he carried at least 10 people out of the flames on his shoulders and into the arms of emergency responders.
Maisuma Bibi, a day laborer making plastic handbags, survived the blaze. She said she was sleeping in a room with about 18 other women and children on the building’s first floor when she woke to find a bag full of plastic parts on fire. Her brother-in-law carried her to safety, she said.
Outside a mortuary that was guarded by dozens of police officers, some of the workers’ relatives said they had received phone calls from the men trapped inside, who begged them to call the fire brigade. Family members identified the dead from photos on police officers’ phones.
Many of the men were migrant workers from the impoverished border state of Bihar in eastern India, relatives said. They earned as little as 150 rupees ($2.10) per day making handbags, caps and other garments, sleeping at the factory between long shifts.
Many of the victims were asleep when the blaze began, according to Yogesh, a police spokesman who uses one name.
Dr. Kishore Singh said rescuers brought victims to his government-run hospital and two others in the city. Another 16 people were being treated for burns or smoke inhalation and were in stable condition, Singh said.
Police barred relatives from entering Lok Nayak hospital, where some of the victims were taken. Relatives of the workers cried, consoled one another and jostled for information.
“I was told by someone my nephew is inside, but I haven’t seen him,” said Mohammad Moti, who was searching for his 22-year-old nephew, Mohammad Chedi.
Fire Services chief Atul Garg said it took 25 fire trucks to put out the blaze. About 60 people, including some of the dead, were taken out of the building, said Mittal, the assistant police commissioner.
New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, appeared at the scene of the fire, promising victims’ families compensation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the fire as “extremely horrific.”
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery,” Modi tweeted.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 31 min 44 sec ago

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”