Saturday, April 4, 2009

Politics of death

Politics of Death

Punjab cooperative minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh was killed in a car accident near village Khanpur on Chandigarh - Ludhiana national highway.

March 29, 2009
5:10 pm

“Did you get information? Captain Kanwaljit had met with an accident.”
“Yes, I am on my way to the accident site.”

5:14 pm
“Are you there?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Tell me what you see.”
“The car is crushed beyond recognition. The co-pilot seat is crushed badly.”
“No. Tell me whether he has survived the accident.”
“I don’t think so. Eye witnesses say he was dead the moment he was taken out of mangled remains of car.”
Long pause……

“Do me a favor. Just mention in your report that “@#$%^*” has condoled death of the minister. ”
“But I am not sure about the death. PGI Chandigarh is yet to announce it.”
“Even if he is injured seriously just mention I have wish him good luck for speedy recovery.”
And the phone line goes off.

Friday, April 3, 2009

When chill seeped into hearts

Few days ago 23 pilgrims to Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh were killed and around 77 injured. Exactly eight months ago 145 were killed and around 100 were injured in a stampede at Naina Devi.

These are my re-collections of the horrific scenes during stampede. We, the journalists, have a blunt job. To find stories even amongst rubble of dead. This was one such hair raising experience for me.

When chillness seeped into hearts
Sans tear, without a cry shocked men and women searched for their loved ones in the pile of bodies of Naina Devi stampede victim. While people frantically looked for their children, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, media persons hunted for different story each.

"My channel people are asking to put eye witnesses of disaster on air. Everybody is too shocked to talk. Whom should I ask to be on camera," said a reporter from channel before moving ahead to pursue a survivor to go on air. The media was in a haste to score one over another.

As a man refused to part with his five years old son's body and held it tightly to his chest, photographers ran to capture the frame. More than eight people were found dead with their children in their arms. Rescue workers did not have heart to part children and their parents and lay them to rest in peace in one coffin each, but media persons felt sorry to have missed the photo.

It was a dreaded evening where silence screamed. The chillness of ice placed on dead bodies had seeped into Dalbir Kaur, who looked frantically for her lost three year daughter. She cried bitterly asking volunteers not throw bodies in a pile and media persons around asked her colleagues from where she was.

Everyone lying on ground was assumed dead and added to the heap of bodies. No one bothered to water the parched throats or see if there was any trace of life in them. After being swung into air and thrown on heap, three are said to have got up and walked away.

Few caught in the melee saw people and children dying, but could not reach out a helping hand. Many died pleading for water, others saw them plead.
Some were carried down the hill on shoulders, others in blankets and sheets. Hurled together in trucks and jeeps, the bodies were packed off to the nearest hospital 20 kms away.
Hundreds of shroud was arranged with tons of ice slabs and blankets. None of them seemed dead or injured. Instead they seemed to be in a deep slumber.

The episode was a testing time. An emotional drain for everybody working around. From victims to their relatives, volunteers to employees, doctors to paramedics, media men to cops – everyone looked at awe as bodies arrived in trucks.

Next day a dozen people were congratulating each other for obvious reasons of being on air or having their names in publications.

Ask not these people what the trauma was. But ask three toddlers who remained separated from their parents for 48 hours, the man who lost consigned his entire family to flames and the newly wed who cried beside his wife's lifeless body. Worst remained those still searching for their relatives.

Pilgrimage resumed and people now walk over the same path that lay strewn with death. Life moves on.