Trespassing is a criminal offence and the railways prosecuted nearly 1.75 lakh people for crossing the tracks in 2017.
In the worst possible tragedy to beset people watching Dussehra celebrations near a Ram Leela site, an intercity train ran into several of them, killing at least 60 people in barely seconds in Amritsar. No one wants to be named responsible for such carelessness — the Dussehra revellers enjoying the fireworks without lending a thought to their personal safety, the administration for shoddy arrangements and the railways for being as culpable in not considering safety measures for an event that has taken place almost every year near their tracks. The railways wished to wash their hands off the mishap because the victims were not passengers even though their train became the ironic Ravana on a festive evening of celebrations and fireworks. The local administration has been handling all the arrangements every year but it may never have crossed its mind to check on safety factors like possible fencing to stop people straying on to the railway tracks from the dhobi ghat.
The truth is India cares very little for safety. The least amount of time, money, energy and resources is spent on considering and formulating a safety protocol at public events that draw a very large number of people. We see the same fecklessness in dealing with crowds at festivals, in places of worship and at public meetings. The railways are also a behemoth seemingly running helter-skelter through a careless nation as they have killed close to 50,000 Indians between 2015 and 2017 according to figures given to Parliament. Of course, the railways alone are not to blame as the responsibility lies as much on negligent people who invariably keep crossing railway tracks. Trespassing is a criminal offence and the railways prosecuted nearly 1.75 lakh people for crossing the tracks in 2017. But taking short cuts across tracks is a national pastime and nothing can stop the Indian from finding the nearest route from point A to point B.
What it all adds up to is a national waste of human and other resources. What raises the hackles is it’s invariably the poor people who are affected the most in such tragedies, much like the migrant labourers in the Joda Fatak area of Amritsar who got pushed on to the tracks while retreating from the crackling fireworks. The combination of circumstances was ill-fated, with the engine driver of the rushing commuter train from Jalandhar unable to see anything in the dazzle of fireworks while going around a bend. The regular blame game meant nothing as the chief guest, the minister Sidhu’s wife, could have done little about it. We owe it all to the peculiar brand of Indian incautiousness that an event of this nature was held at such a vulnerable spot near railway tracks. Solatium will be paid by the Centre and Punjab and life will go on until the next big tragic event comes along because we would have done little to prevent it. Will India and Indians ever change?