Monday, March 12, 2012

Cooking fire or arson?

In mid-February, a fire at Gundlapochampally village about 6.2 miles/10 km north of Hyderabad, India, burned down a makeshift slum colony for 500 migrant construction workers employed on a housing project. Most of the men & women were away at work & only the elderly & children were at home during the fire. Seven people, including four children, were burnt alive & 100 huts were gutted. Officials said it was caused by a cooking gas cylinder explosion. Many workers allege that the fire was a deliberate act of arson to forcibly vacate the land for real estate development. Less than a month later (on Saturday), another major fire “broke out” in Hyderabad (Sai Nagar, Nagole area), taking the life of a 10-year-old girl, injuring many others, & leaving 500 families homeless. Here, women weep at the site of their gutted homes. Again, the families are migrant construction workers who were away at work with only the elderly & children at home. Officials have yet to identify the cause of the fire or to explain why it took 30 minutes to get to the site to contain the conflagration. Mass urbanization caused by predatory economic policies in rural areas & in every part of the world means that millions are crowded into slums, often of a makeshift nature. The cause of frequent fires is usually attributed to things like cooking accidents, gas pipeline explosions, electrical lines, or shoddy construction materials. There have been hundreds of fatalities. But the huge number & similar nature of these slum fires around the world raises questions, especially when coupled with the slum evictions going on everywhere. It resonates with the gentrification of older neighborhoods in the US & elsewhere (in the 1970s), where arson was used to forcibly evict residents & which also involved fatalities. (Photo by Mahesh Kumar A/AP)

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