Piyush Kaviraj for BeyondHeadlines
This Dussehra when people of Patna (Bihar) gathered at Gandhi Maidan to celebrate the festival, the event turned into a tragedy. An unfortunate stampede claimed about 35 lives and left scores injured.
Dussehra is one of the festivals Patnaites wait for every year. The fun and attraction involved with Durga Puja is simply incomparable. Children love it for they get holidays from the sixth day itself, getting time to explore a dazzling and shimmering side of Patna, something which is not available for the rest of the year. The festivities culminate on Vijaya Dashmi or Dussehra with the burning of huge effigies of Meghnaad, Kumbhkaran and Raavan in that order.
About 4 to 5 lakh people assemble at the historic Gandhi Maidan, spread over an area of 62 acres in the shape of a circle, surrounded by busy roads, in the center of the city. The whole of Patna witnesses the grand event, marred by fireworks to commemorate the victory of goodness and ‘dharma’ over evil and ‘adharma’.
The day of Dussehra has always been an eager and anxious wait for evening so that parents would be requested for a visit to ‘Raavan-dahan’ site. It would be an awesome scene with a sea of human beings gleaming in joy. Balloons, roadside chaats and other delicacies like cotton candy would be the added attractions. However, my parents never allowed me to enter inside the Gandhi Maidan during that day.
We would always watch from the other side of the road so that running away could be easy as soon as the human tsunami would erupt after Ravan dahan. We would be extra intelligent to leave as soon as Meghnaad’s effigy was burnt. Reaching home at night and a nice dinner would mark the end of the festivities. A nostalgic sadness would ensue while realizing that another Dussehra has passed.
Who knew a gloomy Dussehra was waiting for Patna this year. By evening, news of stampede was confirmed, with about 35 deaths and more than 100 injured. Sadness engulfed the city, especially for those who have suffered loss of their near and dear ones. Most of the deceased are women or children. The injured have been admitted at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH).
The Prime Minister has already announced a compensation of Rupees two lakh to the nearest kin of the deceased and Rupees fifty thousand to the injured. According to witnesses, a rumor about a live wire led to a panic which resulted into a stampede in no time. Whatever may be the reason it is a horrifying incident which could have been avoided.
It is no secret that lakhs of people assemble at Gandhi Maidan on this day. Besides Dussehra, many rallies and political gatherings, book fairs and other events take place at Gandhi Maidan throughout the year. Yet enough arrangements are never made to avoid emergency situations.
The city administration doesn’t have an SOP for safe evacuation of people during any crisis and as a result, stampedes have been a common feature in the past. The administration needs to be more vigil and better prepared so that such incidents can be avoided in future.
(The author can be tweeted at: @ piyushKAVIRAJ)