India on Sunday woke up to the heartbreaking news of the horrific fire tragedy in at Puttingal Temple, Paravur in Kerala, Gods’ own country in Southern India, that left over a hundred dead and several others injured. A majority of these 100 spectators were blown to bits due to competitive fireworks in the temple grounds.
The tragedy is the second to hit a poll-bound state after a flyover collapse killed 26 in Calcutta in West Bengal just last week.
Puttingal Temple is a Hindu temple in the coastal town of Paravur. According to legends, the temple was founded after the presence of the goddess was experienced on an ant hill; “Puttu” being the Malayalam word for ant hill. The presiding deity of the temple is Mother Goddess, ‘Bhadra Kali’ known by different epithets across South Asia.
Every year, during Meenabharani celebrations, the Puttingal Temple in Paravur provides a visual treat for the devotees: a massive fireworks display. It is an age old tradition. Locals, domestic and foreign tourists visit the temple grounds to witness the grand spectacle.
The fire tragedy that struck the temple on Sunday is not an isolated incident. India is a divine destination and every town in the country has a holy place where pilgrims’ descend like a sea of humanity.
When tragedy strikes, it is too monumental on account of crowd, lack of safety measures, administrative apathy and political interference.
Nevertheless, the tragedy was no handiwork of gods and goddesses’ curse. Instead, it was criminal negligence on the part of temple management who went with fireworks despite being denied the permission.
Prime minister Modi dashed to the temple
With Kerala going to witness elections to its legislative assembly next month (on 16 May), national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi dashed to the temple town along with a team of burn specialists from the capital to be with people in this moment of grief. And after the casualties, compensation for the kin of dead and injured, the usual stuff of politics over tragedy, blame game, injured, commission of inquiry follow religiously.
While reports from these disasters are extensively quoted in the print media and 24X7 television shows, they fail to shake up the conscience of public and politicians to bring a systemic change. Such measures, if proposed, usually gather dust.
Considering the increasing number of tragedies and deaths to fire accidents, is it not time that India end its callous neglect to put life and limb in danger in the name of tradition?
Some of the worst fire tragedies in India recently are the following:-
February 2013 –Kolkata: A major fire broke out at a multi-storey market complex in Kolkata in Eastern India. Impact: 19 killed and a dozen critically injured.
July 2004 -Tamil Nadu: fire broke out at the Sri Krishna Aided Higher Secondary School at Kumbakonam in the Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu. Impact: 94 children were dead and many injured
February 1997 –Odisha: In a religious congregation at Baripada Odisha in Eastern India, a fire broke out. Impact: 206 people were dead and 148 were injured.
June 1997– The Uphaar Cinema fire, occurred on June 13, 1997 at Uphaar Cinema near Green Park in the capital city of Delhi. Impact: 59 killed and 103 were seriously injured.
December 1995 –Haryana: A fire accident occurred on 23 December 1995 at Mandi Dabwali in Haryana in North India. Impact: 540 people were killed due to fire caused by an electric generator short-circuited and the stampede.
List of such fire accidents are numerous.
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But, the moot question is when will authorities become active and stop being reactive? India seldom realises that it is high time to switch to safer modes of celebrations instead of blaming it on fate or curse of a God or bad omen.
It is high time that India learns from this blessed curse. Otherwise it will continue to live from one disaster to other and pay dearly with lives of its people.