Cremations after the tragedy
A running train killed about 60 persons (the official number, the unofficial number may be much more) and seriously injured an equally large number barely 2 km from its destination, Amritsar. A moment before the tragedy, hundreds of persons were gleefully watching from the railway track a very large effigy of Ravana being burnt, producing deafening sounds of bursting of powerful crackers.
The blame game after the tragedy is quite natural. A common characteristic of all the blame games is that political overtones and ‘passing the buck’ suppress the rational voice.
Some are blaming the organisers for the choice of the venue, barely 100 m from the railway track. The prompt counter is that it has been the venue for the last 10 years or so. Both the Amritsar Mayor and the Municipal Commissioner have categorically stated that ‘the organisers had not even applied for permission for the Ravan Dahan celebration.’ Yet, the organisers had sent an email to the local police for security because the local MP and Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur were expected to be present at the venue.
Those against the central government are blaming several persons, Narendra Modi at the top to the gate man at the bottom. They say that despite being aware of the crowd on the track, the railway gateman did not bother to inform the station master. They are also blaming the train driver for not stopping the train despite the presence of a big crowd on the track. On the other hand, the Minister of State for Railways has said that the driver could not have seen the crowds due to a curve in the tracks. According to the Railway Board, it was result of trespassing on rail tracks.
The state authorities and the Congress party would not like to absolve the Railways though neutral observers are blaming the organisers as well as the audience for standing on the railway track, an area meant exclusively for train movement. Saurabh Madan Mithu, Dussehra, Committee (East) President, was happy to see a large crowd on the track. He had announced on the public address system to tell Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur, “Look at the 5,000 people who are here for you. They will not move even if 500 trains were to pass.” At that moment, his words must have enthused those standing on the track as well as Navjot Kaur on the stage.
The Hon’ble Minister was himself not present at the venue but has absolved all humans including the organisers and the local administration by putting the entire responsibility on some invisible supernatural power. It should not surprise anyone because Sidhu has unique explanations for everything.
The only man who felt alarmed and rushed to warn the people when he saw the train was young Dalbir Singh who had played the role of Ravana in the Ram Leela. He could save about eight lives but not his own.
We will know the apportionment of blame only after report of the inquiries being carried out by the state government are made public. (Unfortunately for Sidhu, the ‘power’ already identified by him may not figure in the report.) So far, the Railways have not announced any enquiry because it is not a case of rail accident.
The report or reports will generate fresh debates. The TV channels and print media will get fresh issues for debate. However, no issue is debated endlessly. After some time, there will be fresh issues for debates. The Amritsar tragedy will become part of history.
I for one would not like the debate to end so easily, not because I have any vested interest in keeping the issue alive but because the issue – people routinely entering the ‘no-entry’ zone – has become a way of life.
In our country, most of the people want to jump the queue and get preferential treatment. The VIPs have got several laws and rules made to entitle them to special treatments at most of the places. Where they do not find any special rule for their breed, they try to snatch it on the strength of their status and, if that also does not work, they do not hesitate to use their muscle power.
The common people are ‘common’ because they have no legal right to jump the queue. Therefore, they use their personal bravery, individually as well as collectively.
Almost everyday, you can find individuals jumping the queue, often at great personal risk. Drive for a few kilometres on a road which has traffic signals or just wait for 15-20 minutes near a traffic signal when there is no traffic police around. You will find large number of persons driving two wheelers, three wheelers and four wheelers ignoring red light. Even heavy trucks and buses do not bother for red lights and other traffic rules. If, by chance, there are traffic constables around, some violators get challans and some manage to escape at a lower cost that becomes ‘extra income’ of the traffic police. Accidents in such adventures do not scare daredevils.
While driving on the busy National Highway (from Delhi to Jaipur) I have seen people running to cross even that busy wide road. I face similar problems while driving in the busy city streets. This is a common experience of the car drivers. Those ranking high among the daredevils, continue to enjoy their favourite music or song from mobiles while leisurely crossing the crowded roads. You may see two wheeler drivers in hurry with their mobiles tucked between bent heads and raised shoulders. It requires great driving skill to give preferential treatment to such fellows for whom there is nothing like ‘no-entry’ zone.
The instances of entry into ‘no-entry’ zones can be found everywhere. In the good old days, railway tracks were convenient toilet seats. I do not know whether the Swakshta Mission has put an end to this practice, unique to our country. With the development of technology, new uses of the railway tracks have been discovered. Selfie-lovers sacrifice their lives to get themselves photographed with the running train behind. Music lovers cross railway tracks with their ears plugged to enjoy music from their mobiles. Quite often, such fellows do not hear the roaring sound of running train and sacrifice their lives for the sake of love for music.
We often hear that despite a train fast approaching, vehicle drivers rush to cross the unmanned railway crossings and get killed along with their fellow passengers.
Thousands and deaths in such accidents take place every year. According to a report of the National Crime Records Bureau I read in a morning paper today, more than 39 lakh people were killed in accidents(15 lakhs in road accidents alone) between 2004 and 2015.
That is why I say that the people are primarily responsible for the Amritsar tragedy. The organisers who aided and abetted and the local police that had arrived, perhaps, only to protect the VIPs did not consider it part of the duty to remove the people from the railway track. Navjot Kaur also made her own contribution. The normal practice was to burn the Ravana effigy at that venue around 6 PM when there was no train movement. According to the media reports, she arrived late to (dis) grace the mega event and the burning of the effigy coinsided with the time of arrival of trains.
In a very large country of ours it is not possible to police every nook and corner to prevent the people from entering the ‘no-entry’ zones though their presence must be increased. Severe punishments will definitely act as a deterrent.
In addition, there is urgent need to spread awareness among the people to respect the law of the land. Unfortunately, given the mind-set of the educated as well as undereducated people, this too is not an easy task. It is high time social scientists, political rulers and administrators, especially the police, devote their time and energy to prepare a strategy for spreading awareness on a regular basis. Just blaming each other after a major accident does not serve any purpose.
October 21, 2018
(All photographs downloaded from internet.)