I can’t catch a glimpse of The Lord even after climbing the 7 hills – a rather crude translation of the Telugu version “Yedu kondalu ekkina kanarav emayya”. This was literally true (of course I didn’t climb the 7 hills by foot, I drove) – after waiting for hours together to get on the line, then a few hours of wait on the line itself. Then finally when I reached the destination, I was simply pushed forward without allowing me to catch a glimpse and that’s how my first trip with my family to Tirupathi ended.
But I was not worried about not being able to see The Lord, neither was I worried about the long waits (because I was expecting) what worried me most, it worried me then and it worries me now as well, is the sheer lack of respect for one another – respect for one’s life, respect for one’s time and money.
The journey leading up to Tirupathi was quite pleasant. I had hired a private vehicle so I got to enjoy the scenic drive all the way up to the top of the hills. But once I got there things were not that pleasant.
It was never a problem for me because I had the moola to afford a decent enough accommodation. But on the other hand I saw people sleeping on the bus stop platforms and sometimes even on the floor along with their kids. While I wasn’t totally surprised at what I saw because this was a common sight at any bus stop or train station, it was hard for me to accept that this should be continued this way. I’m not suggesting everyone be accommodated in the AC rooms, but definitely not leave them out in the open. Tirupathi for decades now has attracted visitors in large numbers on a yearly basis, so given this and the large sums of donations it receives, this should not be that difficult if they really wanted to solve the problem.
May be its wishful thinking but I know and you probably know it as well, that if there was no accommodation and we were forced to stay outside; spend a night at the bus stop with kids, we would definitely not appreciate it and may be even decide to never come back. Also it’s very much possible that the person lying on the floor walked all the way up but in the end my money mattered more than his/her time or effort.
The Darshan (special one of course)
Anyways we waited for the gates to be opened which I vaguely remembered were scheduled to be opened at 7:30pm or so. My daughter was just 2 years old back then but she did remarkably well to keep us company for the most part. And finally the moment arrived when the gates opened. Since we had paid for the special darshan we just zipped through for the most part. On the other side of the wall where I was walking, I saw a huge wire mesh built on either side that served as a walk way. This was strictly a one way entry and once you are in, there was no going back. All those people who could not afford to pay for the special darshan were required to go through these long, winding, crowded, packed and rather precarious walk ways.
The special darshans was probably a good idea to ease the crowd congestion and to have separate lines but that doesn’t imply that people who paid less have to compromise on their safety.
Special Darshan not so special anymore
There was a point in this journey where both the lines would merge, bringing everyone together and making it one big congested line. To make matters worse there was no ventilation nor was there any lighting. With my daughter in my arms, with no exit in sight, with no room for catching a breather, with people pushing me from behind, I got scared for my daughter and I felt completely helpless and lost even with thousands of people around me. Because in situations like this things could easily go out of control with one small mistake. Anyone falling down, anyone shouting all of a sudden, anyone playing mischief, all it takes it one person to trigger and rest will be an uncontrollable chain reaction. So while I was trying to pull myself together I felt a big jolt from behind. I was furious but when I turned around I saw that the man behind me was being pushed as well. In the meanwhile my daughter woke up and poor thing started crying inconsolably. But there was hardly anything I could do other than hoping that it doesn’t get any worse than this. For the next 25-30 minutes there was constant pushing and more pushing and more pushing.
Reflecting back what I experienced was probably the beginning of a process called stampede. This was just the beginning; of course the stampede itself would have been 1000 times worse than what I had experienced. In a way this experience gave me inkling as to why stampedes in India mostly occur at religious destinations because when the world’s richest places of worship cannot have a set up to manage large crowds then it’s a moot point even discussing the situations at the not so rich religious places.
But somehow this is acceptable to me and even worse acceptable for the authorities as well. What else could explain the number of tragic deaths due to stampedes at the religious places year after year and even worse deaths due to stampedes doesn’t even raise an eye brow? Until the authorities change their attitude and realize that the large crowds should be managed not controlled, large crowds should be welcomed not treated as a nuisance, and large crowds should be treated as an asset not as a liability there will not be an end to these manmade disasters. Equally important is that I as an individual must realize that the life of the man on the ordinary line or that of the man on the bus stop platform is as important as mine, because until we collectively fight for our safety the authorities will not change their attitude.
So why can’t we have
1) better barricades
2) better crowd management facilities – this could be providing advance reservations (if we can manage this for Indian railways, no reason why we can’t manage for the religious institutions). This way these places can be restricted to have only a finite number of people who can be managed.
3) more help desks to better assist the people
4) more accommodation facilities
5) special arrangements for kids and aged people
These are just some simple things that randomly come to my mind but I’m sure there are many better ways to do this.
Here is a link highlighting the worst incidents in the past 10 years claiming almost 1000 lives. Of course the official numbers are always down played.
We cannot seem to avoid loss of human lives to terrorist attacks, natural disasters (although Odisha was an exception), sexual harassments but at least we could do something about these manmade disasters