Friday, January 16, 2009

Report on Salma

This report from Sayantani:

I met Salma Thakre, partner of Sunil Thakre (killed in the CST shootout) yesterday. Salma is originally from West Bengal and ran away from home when really young to come to Bombay. Here she got married and had two children, but the husband was abusive and regularly beat her up. She fled from the abusive relationship and was staying on the footpaths near CST Station with her two young children, when she met Sunil, an anda pav seller outside the CST station.

Sunil provided shelter to Salma and the children in his house. Though they were not legally married, they had been staying together as man and wife for over six years at the time of the shoot out, out of which three years were spent in a rented accomodation in Dombivili. Salma's children, Aman (approximately 9 years old) and Soni (approximately 7 years old) referred to Sunil as papa and the couple were known as the parents of Aman and Soni in the organisation for street children in Kharghar where the children are staying as well as in the school where they study.

After Sunil's demise, Salma's main woes are claiming the compensation and money for daily expenses. She said the children's expenses are all taken care of by the organisation running the school where the study. The children stay in a hostel in Panvel during term time, and come home for vacations. However, she has no money she's had to leave the rented accomodation in Dombivili and she's come back to the footpaths of CST. She'd received a sum of Rs. 15,000 for Sunil's funeral rites from the Railways. She'd managed to save approximately Rs. 6,000 from that, which she gave to someone for safe keeping. That person's taken the money and run off.

The biggest obstancle that she is facing in claiming the compensation is that the couple was not legally they don't have any papers to prove that she is Sunil's widow. Apparently, some officials from the Railways had visited them and filled up the compensation claim on their behalf, but they'd said that proof of marriage would be required to claim compensation. If there were no papers, photographs of the wedding in a temple or like evidence would also suffice, they said. Unfortunately, Salma doesn't have any such proof either. She had managed to get a letter from the children's school however, stating that Sunil and Salma are mentioned as parents of Aman and Soni in the school records.

Further, Sunil's friend, Ramu, who had accompanied Salma, said he'd known Sunil for over 15 years, and when I asked whether he'd be willing to sign an affidavit, if necessary, saying so, he said him and his friends would be happy to state on record that Salma and Sunil had been together for over six years.

Don't know how much this will help...but we could push their case...Kiran was suggesting that she could meet Sanjay Nirupam to see if he would take up the case. I'm meeting Ramu and Salma today to get copies of all their papers. Will scan through all the papers and send to Kiran stuff that may help.

As far as livelihood is concerned, she said she wasn't doing anything when Sunil was alive. She showed me an application form given by the Railways, through which she could apply for a job on compassionate grounds. However, I see two problems - one the job application is for an immediate relative of the deceased, which in the absence of papers, Salma may not be able to prove; and second, educational qualifications of the applicant need to be stated and proof annexed with the application. As Salma is illiterate, that may be a problem too, though not as big as the first issue.

I asked her whether she's be willing to take some form of training for tailoring or like, and she readily agreed, saying she doesn't know of such a place, but if we helped her find a place which imparted such training, she'd be happy to learn and work. Was also wondering, in the event the Railways accept her claim as a dependent of Sunil but don't give her a job because she can't read or write, would it be a good idea to get her to apply for a licensed stall in CST or Dombivili (the reason I mention these two areas is because she is familiar with these two areas).

Another concern that she has is regarding housing. She has not yet told her children about Sunil's demise...and doesn't know what she'll say to them...she's also worried because now the children don't have a home to return to during the holidays.I gave her a month's rent so she could get back to the house.

Her expenses seem to be about 900 for rent, approx. 300 for electricity, cable etc. as well as other household expenses (approx another 1,500 i guess).

For the immediate, we could chip in and create a fund so her monthly expenses are covered for a period of six months or a year. We would also need to find a tailoring institute for her training, or a small scale industry involved in papad making, pickle making or the like where she could be employed. She had categorically stated that she'd prefer staying in Dombivili as that's an area she is familiar and comfortable with, so we'll need to find something in or around that area.

Alternatively, any funds received could be pooled to set up a fixed income instrument for immediate expenses and the actual pool of money could be used for a later requirement, like maybe the children's further education after they finish schooling.

Personally, I think her chances of getting compensation from the Railways may not be very bright, so was wondering if it may be a good idea to recommend her case to the Taj Trust.

Guess that's all for now. Will keep all posted on further developments.

Sent from BlackBerry® on Airtel

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