Slumdog child stars given new homes

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Two of the child stars of the Oscar-topping movie are to moved from their Mumbai slum.

In what will be seen as either an act of kindness or a cynical ploy designed to secure public support before elections, officials in the city's housing authority have sought approval from the chief minister to provide two flats for the child actors Azharuddin Ismail and Rubiana Ali Qureshi. The children, who flew to Los Angeles to experience the red-carpet excitement of Sunday night's Oscar ceremony, live in the Garib Nagar slum, an area riddled with narrow alleys of shanty homes, open sewage and rubbish. Azhar lives with his sick father in a makeshift cloth shelter and Rubiana lives in a small room.

But officials at the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) have requested two apartments for the families from a specially reserved batch of government properties. Amarjeet Singh Manhas, the MHADA chairman, said he had been contacted by the regional head of the Congress Party to obtain the flats. He said: "We had a meeting of Congress leaders and we felt that since the children have made the nation proud, they must be given free houses. We have recommended it. We are 100 per cent sure the chief minister will clear it."

The decision has delighted the children's families. Azharrudin's father, Mohammed Ismail, who reportedly has tuberculosis, told The Times of India: "We have barely got any money from the film-makers. In fact, whatever came, has already been spent. We do not even have a pukka [proper] wall in this shanty and our future is equally uncertain."

Rubiana's father, Rafiq Qureshi, a carpenter, said: "Our house was demolished by the authorities. We are happy that we will have a permanent roof over our heads. Rubiana will be delighted."

The film-makers, including the British director Danny Boyle, have adamantly denied exploiting the children. They were paid above the local average for 30 days and educational trust funds have been set up for them. The film-makers had also promised to provide homes for the children before the local authorities stepped in.