Amritsar train tragedy wipes the colors of festivity and takes away the life of many. The evening was cheerful. People were rejoicing. Nothing seemed to perturb. Many gathered around and longed for their festivities to launch.
Dussehra celebrations were about to start at the Joda Fatak area where a large crowd had gathered to watch the magnificent fireworks. Unfortunately, a tragedy happened. A dreaded experience which no one ever accounted for. And what followed was alarming, dreadful and unspeakable.
A speeding train ran over hundreds of people who were watching Ravana’s effigy going up in flames. Sixty people are already dead, and the numbers are rising.
Annual Dussehra celebrations in Joda Fatak, Amritsar occurs in the open area of the crossing over there.
Arriving as chief guest was Navjot Kaur Sidhu, former MLA, and wife of Punjab Tourism Minister, famed Navjot Sing Sidhu.
Although the ceremony was starting by 6 pm, the delay occurs because Mrs. Sidhu couldn’t reach the venue on time since she was attending similar other celebrations.
The Ravana Dahan started around 7 pm, appraised by hundreds of claps from every one present.
What Went Wrong?
Everything. As the ground surrounds people everywhere, others focus to stand on the railway tracks. Many followed them to the tracks because they were lying on the higher ground and offered a better vantage point.
The welcoming of the chief guest took additional time. Now so many people were on the tracks that few of them were skidding and spilling on to the railway tracks.
On that day, at around 7 pm, the Jalandhar Amritsar DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) passes the tracks.
The crowd so full with enthusiasm overlooked the timings. No one cared for anything more than the Ravana Dahan.
The moment the effigy was lit, firecrackers began shooting off towards the people. Mrs. Sidhu was escorted away by her security guards even as a tragedy unfolded on the tracks. As people retreated from the effigy, many of them were pushed towards the railway tracks from where many were already watching the ceremonies. Some of them were busy recording the effigy go up in flames with their mobile phone cameras. In the noise of the crackers, joyous cheers from the crowd and the ensuing commotion, people did not notice that the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU was speeding towards them. To their ignorance, the train ran over them like a strong gust of wind which takes everything with it that lie in its way.
The realization struck. Everything was over with the Amritsar train tragedy.
A Storm Followed
“We didn’t hear the train coming. It was dark, and everyone was watching the effigy in flames when the train suddenly appeared,” said Mintoo, a migrant laborer staying in the vicinity who was asked by the Hindustan Times. Most of the victims are migrant laborers. “Families have been wiped out in Amritsar train tragedy,” he said.
Another eyewitness said, “It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies”.
Wails and cries filled the air as people frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including those of children, were lying at the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh for the kin of each of the dead in Amritsar train tragedy. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced Rs. 5 lakh per dead person. The Punjab government will bear the cost of medical treatment of those injured.
However, this horror again shows India’s lack of knowledge of public safety and interest to learn more about it. In sight of this the best we all can do is hope that such an abominable incident never happens again.