A Cruel September

September has been unkind to young lives across the world. With growing insecurity, greed, violence and apathy, places and people are fast becoming indifferent to the young.

How else do you explain the arrest of a fourteen year old boy on 16.09.2015 because his teachers suspected him of carrying a bomb to his school, Mac Arthur High School in Texas? Ahmed Mohamed wanted to show his teacher a digital clock that he made out of a pencil case. His teachers suspected the clock to be a bomb and informed the police who arrested and handcuffed him and took him to the Juvenile detention centre. Eventually charges against Mohamed were dropped but the police justified the arrest because it was not immediately evident that the device was not a bomb.

Sometime in the spring of 2011 (a period that many welcomed as “Arab Spring”) songwriter Ibrahim Qashush wrote songs of rebellion asking Syrians to stand up to the autocratic reign of Bashar al-Ashad. Ibrahim’s vocal chord was ripped out and his body was found floating in a river in July, 2011. This was a sign of the times to come. Though Qashush’s songs continued to lift the spirits of the rebels fighting Assad, high hopes emanating from the “Arab Spring” soon gave way to despair.

About four years later, in 2015, Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and many others are taking unimaginable risks as they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea with the belief that some European nation will accept them. The objective is to flee the violence and find a secure life and a job. The journey across the sea on overcrowded boats least suitable to withstand the fury of the rough sea has seen many disasters. Rescuers have saved many refugees. But not all have been lucky. On 2.09.2015 the world became aware of the plight of these refugees when it saw the photograph of the motionless body of three year old Aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach. Many more children have lost their lives during the course of these journeys.

In India, things do not look too bright for the young. As cities eye for the ‘smart city’ tag and the nation attempts to offer a ‘swach bharat’, the breeding grounds for the deadly ‘dengue’ mosquito in the capital somehow survive all these campaigns. Anyone who has spent even a brief period in Delhi recently would know how the buck keeps passing here between the State, the Centre and the Municipal Corporations whenever the city is in the news for a wrong reason. Here the buck stops nowhere. It is no different in this season of dengue.

On 8.09.2015 Avinash Rout, a seven year old dengue patient spent the last four-five hours of his life trying to find a hospital in the capital that could give critical care to his rapidly deteriorating health. By the time a hospital admitted him, it was too late. The incident highlights the state of our health care system that suffers from inadequate infrastructure and insufficient medical professionals. Some of the hospitals refused to admit Avinash on the ground that they did not have a bed. The blatant disregard to the deteriorating health of a young human life is horrifying.

In the Upahaar Cinema tragedy of 1997 in Delhi, 59 people died by asphyxiation. When a transformer at the ground floor of the cinema caught fire and a thick black smoke of toxic gases managed to enter the cinema hall through a stairway there was very little chance of escape for those who were watching a movie from the balcony. In violation of rules, number of seats in the balcony was increased by shutting down some exits. There was panic and chaos in the dark when the fire in the transformer led to cutting off the power in the Hall. The absence of sufficient exits and any signage indicating the only exit made escape from the balcony difficult. Spectators squeezed through the exit and on to the staircase. But with the toxic smoke filling up the balcony and the staircase, most of them collapsed instantly. The Upahaar balcony on that fateful day may not have been a lot different from the scene at the Nazi gas chambers.

After 18 years, criminal proceedings against the owners of the Cinema were disposed of by a Bench of three Judges of the Supreme Court. After a brief order on 19.08.2015 the Supreme Court delivered a judgment on 23.09.2015 refusing to send the builders, Susil and Gopal Ansal to Jail if they deposit 30 crores each within 3 months. The Hon’ble Court observed that it may not be fruitful to ask the builders to undergo rigorous imprisonment as they were “fairly aged”.  

The Court also directed that the fine which was to be paid by the Ansals in lieu of the sentence would be used by the Delhi Government for setting up a new trauma centre or for upgrading the existing trauma centers to give prompt treatment to victims in similar mishaps. Unfortunately, the court lost sight of the fact that setting up a trauma centre would make a difference only to those who would make it to such center but not to the plight of those who would be trapped and dead instantly owing to criminal negligence of people like the Ansals.  

Some members of Association of Victims of Upahaar Tragedy claim that they spent more time following the legal proceedings that arose consequent to the tragedy than they spent with their children. They thought it would help them find some peace if those responsible for the tragedy are given a punishment which would at least act as a deterrent for other offenders. But the Ansals managed to grow old enough to get their sentences quashed out of compassion while those parents are still struggling to come to terms with their shattered lives. Gopal Ansal was aged 49 and Susil Ansal was aged 57 at the time of the tragedy. 19 of those who died were below the age of 20.

September may be gone but it has reminded us that man will never cease to have a hand in the horror in this world.


More by :  Abir Phukan

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