In Bharat­pur, 1 wed­ding and 24 fu­ner­als


A WED­DING ended with 24 fu­ner­als as a wall col­lapse, trig­gered by a sud­den storm, crushed 24 peo­ple to death and in­jured about 30 oth­ers in Bharat­pur on Wed­nes­day night.

Asha (28) and Dhar­men­dra Singh (35) were get­ting mar­ried at An­na­purna Mar­riage Hall at Se­war in Bharat­pur. The ‘hall” is ac­tu­ally an open court­yard, where a tent was put up with sup­port from the long brick wall. Wit­nesses said that around 9.15 pm, when the rain and hail­storm be­gan, sev­eral guests rushed to the wall or took shel­ter un­der the tent. Both the wall and the tent col­lapsed.

Po­lice con­firmed on Thurs­day that the wall and the “dec­o­ra­tions” (mean­ing the tent) were what proved fatal. The wall — al­most 90 feet long and 12-13 feet height — “was struc­turally weak” and the tent, loaded with cloth and cor­ru­gated sheets of alu­minum, “was weighed down by the rain and hail and, act­ing as a sail”, pulled the wall down.

The po­lice iden­ti­fied the owner of the mar­riage hall as Bharat Lal Sharma, who is ab­scond­ing. SP Anil Tank said that Sharma had been booked for cul­pa­ble homi­cide not amount­ing to mur­der. He added that all mar­riage homes and gar­dens in Bharat­pur would be sur­veyed to as­sess safety mea­sures.

Of­fi­cers added that An­na­purna Mar­riage Hall had been op­er­a­tional for less than a year, but did not have “per­mis­sion to do so”. Mean­while, the Ra­jasthan gov­ern­ment has or­dered a probe on whether mar­riage halls are fol­low­ing laws.

Stunned and griev­ing, Asha’s fa­ther Kirori Saini told The In­dian Ex­press, “This was to be the cul­mi­na­tion of all our dreams. We had saved money and done all we could to make the wed­ding a suc­cess. Then this hap­pened.”

The mar­riage had been in the works for a year. Dhar­men­dra was known to Asha’s par­ents. When his fam­ily ex­pressed in­ter­ested, Kirori said they be­gan sav­ing for the wed­ding. A to­bacco seller, Kirori paid Rs 41,000 to rent the mar­riage hall and an ad­di­tional Rs 15,000 for dec­o­ra­tions — pri­mar­ily the tent. Around 650 guests were ex­pected.

Dhar­men­dra, who owns a fruit and veg­etable shop in Jaipur’s Johri Bazaar, said that when the storm came, some guests ran to the rooms one one side of the court­yard while oth­ers looked else­where for shel­ter. Fif­teen min­utes later, af­ter the storm sub­sided, the ex­tent of the tragedy be­came clear.

“There was de­bris, torn clothes. Peo­ple were run­ning, call­ing out for fam­ily mem­bers. The wall had fallen on the other side, where the cater­ers were work­ing. We lost so many peo­ple from the fam­ily,” he said.

“My daugh­ter’s un­cle and aunt had come with their two chil­dren. All four died im­me­di­ately. They were eat­ing. I had sug­gested that the kids have ice­cream,” Kirori said

Fran­tic calls were made to the po­lice, to hospi­tal and friends. Res­cue op­er­a­tions en­sued. The wed­ding also took place, but it was hardly the wed­ding they had hoped for.

“We got mar­ried in a small room, lit by a lamp. It was just the priest and us. As if we were com­mit­ting a crime. Is that how peo­ple get mar­ried?” Kirori said an­grily.

On Thurs­day, the de­bris was still be­ing cleared. Un­der­neath the tent, a slip­per, a smashed phone and the odd plas­tic toy were found.

“The rain and hail stones led peo­ple to seek shel­ter near the wall. The wall, we later re­alised, was not con­structed prop­erly. It was also sup­port­ing a tent that got weighed down in the rain. The wall col­lapsed, it was all over in a few min­utes,” said Gau­rav Ku­mar, a waiter who es­caped with rel­a­tively mi­nor in­juries.

Oi­nam Anand

Rel­a­tive of a vic­tim at Bharat­pur’s RBM hospi­tal.

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