Safe­guard Against Kol­lam-Like Tragedy

Pun­ish the guilty, evolve new fes­ti­val norms

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

The sense­less loss of 109 lives and grave in­jury to nearly five times as many at the 500-year-old Devi tem­ple at Put­tin­gal in Kol­lam, Ker­ala, in the early hours of Sun­day was an avoid­able tragedy. Be­yond the deaths, and de­struc­tion of prop­erty, it pro­vides a glimpse into a far more dan­ger­ous and com­mon oc­cur­rence: the fla­grant flout­ing of norms, the ut­ter dis­re­gard for the safety and sanc­tity of hu­man life by the pow­er­ful, and the will­ing­ness of politi­cians to sub­vert norms if it yields elec­toral gains. In its twi­light hours, Ker­ala’s UDF gov­ern­ment should do right by the peo­ple, and pros­e­cute those re­spon­si­ble, no mat­ter how pow­er­ful, for hav­ing killed and maimed so many. It is wel­come that it has in­sti­tuted a ju­di­cial in­quiry into the mishap.

It is clear that the tragedy took place be­cause the Put­tin­gal Devas­wom man­ag­ing com­mit­tee chose to dis­re­gard the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s or­der against hold­ing the fire­works com­pe­ti­tion/show and it had the back­ing of lo­cal politi­cians in this de­fi­ance of the law. The tem­ple ad­min­is­tra­tion and its po­lit­i­cal back­ers, in­clud­ing, re­port­edly, state labour min­is­ter Shibu Baby John, must be in­ves­ti­gated for crim­i­nal neg­li­gence lead­ing to death and dis­abil­ity. To ar­gue that fire­works are part of the tem­ple tra­di­tion is no ex­cuse. Tra­di­tions need to evolve, es­pe­cially when the au­to­matic ceil­ing im­posed in the past by re­source con­straints no longer ap­ply to dan­ger­ous tra­di­tions like fire­works dis­plays. Moder­nity is more than us­ing elec­tric lights to light up old rit­u­als. Ker­ala’s so­ci­ety must live up to its rep­u­ta­tion for ad­vance­ment and pro­duce a new con­sen­sus on such mat­ters.

The gov­ern­ment has an op­por­tu­nity to sig­nal loud and clear that those with tem­po­ral and di­vine ac­cess are not above the law. That not only will the gov­ern­ment not tol­er­ate the abuse of power, it will act de­ci­sively against all those who aided the flout­ing of norms, be­cause they have aided and abet­ted the per­pe­tra­tion of a sense­less tragedy. The ju­di­cial in­quiry must not end up as a con­ve­nient ex­cuse for not tak­ing ac­tion.

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