January 21, 2011

Even in stampedes, those are our poor who lose their lives

Sabarimala is considered one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations, so much so that it finds its place in the global list of top pilgrimage sites, sharing space with the Vatican and the Kumbh. Even Forbes Traveler features this destination among its list of the “World’s 10 most popular religious pilgrim centres”. Paradoxically, this pilgrimage destination that attracts around 60 million tourists (both domestic and foreign) annually, has failed to make the site safer for its pilgrims. The recent stampede incident that occurred on January 14, 2011 taking the lives of more than 100 people and injuring several more is not the first one. A similar incident occurred back in 1999, killing more than 50 people. In fact, both the unfortunate incidents occurred precisely on the same very date – January 14. For that matter, January 14 is considered the most auspicious day for visiting this destination; and obviously, that day witnesses the maximum number of footfalls of tourists. A conservative estimate shows that around 10 million people visit this site on this day, thus escalating the probability of such incidents. However, such a ‘probability’ can be completely avoided, considering that it is a well known fact! But then, I fail to understand how organizers could not keep the security and the system foolproof, especially on this particular day! What is more shocking is that in spite of a similar such incident taking the lives of many a decade back, no proper mechanism for safety protocols was established. Even after the past incident of a similar nature, no provisions of proper lighting, regulated traffic management or any form of security systems were put in place! The need for such protocols is an imperative in such sites, especially because the site is steep, quite grassy and sees the maximum movement just before dawn (to watch the Makara Jyothi). Given the timing of the visits and the topography of the site, there is also a crying requirement to study the tourist-carrying-capacity of this site.

Stampedes, for that matter, are neither a recent phenomenon nor only confined to this one site, but are frequent in almost all major pilgrimage destinations of India – ranging from Vaishno Devi to Maha Kumbh – both being the biggest and largest religious tourist hubs of the nation. Back in 2003, hundreds were killed and injured at the Kumbh Mela bathing festival in Maharashtra. Similarly, in 2005, the death toll crossed a few hundreds in Mandhra Devi temple in Maharashtra; in 2008, people died at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, and at Mahadeva temple and Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan. Almost all major tourist destinations (especially pilgrimage sites) have experienced one or the other incident of stampede. Contrast this with the world’s biggest religious tourist hubs viz. the Mecca or the Vatican – such incidents of stampede are very rare in these hubs, and creditably because of proper and scientific implementation of security measures and traffic management protocols.

When it comes to revenues, Sabarimala alone in a period of just one month is able to generate anything between Rs. 60-75 crore; and on an average, its revenues easily cross the figure of Rs. 100 crore annually! For the year 2009, the state of Andhra Pradesh, which houses Tirupathi, alone generated revenue worth Rs. 400 crore! Amidst all these numbers and series of repeated incidents, what gets marginalized is the fact that the major pie of this money comes as a part of petty donations made by the poor and underprivileged. And a major pie of deaths in these stampedes is of these common men only. Simply because when it comes to VIPs and celebs, the whole procedure of security and safety is “re-customized” for their convenience, ensuring that they reach the site safely and faster. Even if an iota of such a system and facility is provided for all those thousands of poor devotees (who virtually ensure that pilgrimage sites sustain on their donations and are able to keep up to their reputations), the death toll would instantly see a southward trend.

In fact, it is not just the organisers who should be held responsible for such mass tragedies, even the state government is equally responsible for such incidents. To top it, even the mainstream media has been unusually silent over this particular incident. The bigger tragedy is that all such irresponsibility and lack of reporting stems from the fact that the people who met their untimely death are from the bottom strata of society! Neither are they significant for any political party, nor do they bring in large individual donations to religious institutions or make any news. So what follows post such tragedies is some meagre compensation, which hardly reaches the kin of the dead; and the news becomes stale! The irony is that the same media, especially the electronic media, goes for full coverage when celebrities visit such places. They shamelessly go to the extent of even covering the colour of the clothes these celebrities wear on such visits – now compare this to the abysmal coverage provided to stampede incidents that remain in headlines merely, if at all, for a few days, consuming only a few hours of electronic media!

To be factual, I did come across a few editorials post the recent incident where the writers’ stances were more towards pointing out the irresponsible behaviour of people. There is a lot of merit in one of their arguments, when they say that people in general become unruly whenever there is a crisis like this. But then, this is a fact which is not unknown to us. Then again, that does not mean that we can let people die. As I mentioned earlier, there are other global religious destinations which attract a similar number of pilgrims, but their traffic management and security systems are so formidable that there is no chance of any such tragedies there. There is only one reason as to why such tragedies do not happen there. And that is that their religious committees and governments do not suffer from social prejudices and have been successful in universalizing basic facilities for one and all! The day we achieve the same – even our tragedies would stop!

Share/Bookmark

15 comments:

bharat kumar said...

If there is small mistake in any VVIP trip it becomes a major issue ,some officers will be suspended so on, but when it comes to poor no one bothers!!

Umesh Bawa said...

Indian ethos broadly classified under different mythological stories and events like Ramayana and Mahabharata, cause to break them as a celebration after. But, the same repercussions and paradoxy is still favoring its pitch...
When V V I P's went on pilgrimage, it becomes a masala for every kind of media..
And, it basically folks around two words, WHO CARES. Whether politicians or media, all vent up under same tunnel, and serving the very old proning culture of this nation's uncivilised human being....
Culturally, we are very having very old mythology, probably one of the richest as compared globally. We think that, none is there who is cimparable to our diversity and religion. But when it comes on humanitarian grounds, we all lying below of all. Even animals takes care of their diversities. And by having no qualms, i would say, animals beats us in this race.....

Anil Chetwani said...

I do not agree that there were only poor who lost there lives. Maybe there were not very rich but lot of people were from Middle Class background. Such things do happen all over the world. In India we have the tendency to criticize the system, the government. We never criticize our unruly behavior. Until we develop some civic sense into ourselves, we can not avoid such tragedies.

uttam said...

Its true that some incidents happen due to unruly behaviour of people. But its also true that very few are gifted with keeping their cool in crisis and tragedy . So, instead of blaming it on the unruly behaviour,efforts should be to mitigate the known risks and certainly that can be done by the authorities concerned only.

nair said...

last year I visited Sabarimala.One thing that pained me was the Government of Kerala which takes more than 100 crore annually from this temple is not keen to spend money to provide facilities to pilgrims.If the government is not aware of the responsibility,why the Kerala Government takes income from cash rich Sabarimala,Guruvayur etc.?

sreedhar said...

This is a matter of serious concern. A proper fool proof security should be implemented in the coming days without fail. It is quite evident that there was not enough security personnels on this particular site stating that it is a dense forest. But if people gather by thousands in this place it is the responsibility of every citizen that proper security measures are implemented at that place. Some say basic facilities like drinking water is also not provided in this site. There should be a thorough brainstorming session and need to address all the aspects atleast in the coming years without fail!

vivek said...

if u see from kashmir to kanyakumari ,only poor people suffer always and what kerala gov.has done after taking more 100 crore money.this electronic media also if any actor or actress have fever also this will become breaking news for one week.
plz yar do something for our society.if u will do like this then what will happen to our country.as we knew that all leadre is corrupt.

Ramanathan said...

It is very unfortunate that the incident happened and 100 odd persons died and many more injured. After any such incidents in our country the common feature is that we can come across so many armchair criticism on concerned authorities, Government and others except on ourselves. We talk all high sounding morale to others. Of course it is gratifying to note that there are some institutions and individuals who really help the needy at the spot. Probably they have no time to do any armchair criticism of others as they are doing their might to mitigate the misery of the suffering victims/relations.
It is not that these things are happening only in India. It happens throughout out the world at sometime or other wherever there are huge congregations. In the article mentions were made about Mecca and Vatican. If one goes through the news records of Haj pilgrimage of Mecca, one can find the stampedes on 2.7.90, 23.5.94, 9.4.98, 5.3.01, 11.2.03, 1.2.04 and 12.1 06. Perhaps there may be other incidents also at other times. Similarly, we may be able to find such incidents in any part of the world. By finding such incidents in other places, we are not gaining anything and it does not reduce the misery of the suffering people of the Sabarimalai pilgrimage.
Even the 'mighty' USA had the man made calamity of terrorists attack on structures very close to their intelligence centers. I have also come across natural calamities of Tsunami like incidents along the coasts of USA.
In such circumstances what is required is to go to the spot, wherever possible, and find out the necessities of the suffering people and render the help if possible by ourselves or alert the authorities concerned about the necessities of the situation, instead of merely giving our armchair opinions.
Ramanathan A R

Savita said...

true sir, but many do not think of others, especially the bureaucrats and the politicians. there should be minimum facilities in such places.

Niraj Gera said...

WHY do we just crib over bad politics in our drawing rooms & NOT take action against such politicians ?? Shouldn't we all stand against corruption & tell them that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ?? If you feel the way I feel then JOIN OUR HANDS on 30th Jan, 2011 @ Ramlila Ground, Delhi. (Share this image & TAG all YOUR FRIENDS...Lets show our STRENGTH to Corrupt politicians & bureaucrats)

for more details - http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.org/

Technology Journal said...

Poor Crowd management and poor Disaster management planning.

Even the Mumbai Deluge was ill handled then.

Today India is in a precarious unwieldy situation, when more resources are required for managing the huge population.

There should be scenario planning of crazy situations at the DMP centre instead of trying to discover the wheel when U find a gF.

Say What,
SirJi.

Deboo said...

this is a real sad news but our government are still sleeping. no one knows when they will awake up and how they will awake up. Corrupt politicians, babu's and defense personal are more dangerous then terrorist...........

sushant jain said...

Agree with Deboo...

bansi said...

Such religious gatherings are not organized by any person or group, people visit themselves there. It is the fault of VIPs and the administration to arrange theire safe pilgrimage, as it happens in Kumbha at Haridwar and many such religious places and occasions.Here I will accept that Hindus are the worst disciplined religious group for all such occasions, which causes these stampedes.In fact they feel that god and govt will do everything and theirs" is no responsibility

bansi said...

Such religious gatherings are not organized by any person or group, people visit themselves there. It is the duty of VIPs and the administration to arrange theire safe pilgrimage, as it happens in Kumbha at Haridwar and many such religious places and occasions.Here I will accept that Hindus are the worst disciplined religious group for all such occasions, which causes these stampedes.In fact they feel that god and govt will do everything and theirs" is no responsibility

" This blog is managed by The Sunday Indian. We heartily welcome comments on the articles.. However TSI will delete all those comments which are personal in nature and have the usage of unparliamentary language. "