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‘Every year we stood on railway tracks, earlier there were warnings when train approached’

Written by Divya Goyal
| Amritsar |

Published: October 20, 2018 5:25:13 pm

People mourn the death of family members at cremation ground in Amritsar. (Express Photo)

Most of the people who died or were injured in the tragic train accident during Dussehra festivities at Jora Phaatak of Amritsar on Friday were those living in colonies near railway lines. They have been living here for decades and watching the Raavan Dahan being held near the tracks, knowing well that it wasn’t safe. However, nothing untoward happened like it did on Friday when a train mowed down around 150 people and killed at least 59.

Most of the affected families work as small time laborers, wood polish workers, sanitary workers, gardeners, painters among others. They are mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar settled in Punjab for earning livelihood. Follow LIVE UPDATES HERE

Also Read | At civil hospital, parents wait for autopsies of their children who left homes to ‘celebrate’ 

Recalling the horrifying incident, when the train came and crushed hundreds of people who drifted towards the tracks as the Ravan effigy was set on fire, eyewitnesses told The Indian Express that every year they used to stand on railway tracks, watch firecrackers knowing well it was unsafe but nothing untoward ever happened like it did on Friday.

Rakesh(right) and Rahul(left) ,Rakesh lost his son and brother in the incident. (Express Photo by gurmeet Singh)

His shirt soaked in blood, Rakesh (35) sat emotionless at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital of Amritsar, waiting for bodies of his brother Dinesh (32) and nephew Abhishek (9). Rakesh and his friend Rahul, both working as sanitary workers and living in nearby Dharampura colony, said that they were out with their families to watch mela. “I and Rakesh were inside the venue boundary when Raavan effigy was burnt but Dinesh, his wife, mother in law, sister in law and her children moved towards the tracks. Soon, there was chaos all over and all we could hear along firecrackers were cries and shrills of people shouting for help. We did not hear a single horn sound or any alert sounded by approaching train,” says Rahul.

“Initially we thought that two to five people must have been injured but as chaos grew and we reached the railway tracks, there were hundreds of bodies and even separated parts scattered around. Then we realized that our own family members were missing. Dinesh and his son’s body was found. His wife Preeti is under treatment but his mother in law, sister in law and her children are still missing,” said Rahul, choking. “Where should we look for them. We have visited all hospital but found no clue,” he said.

He added that every year he and other locals used to attend this mela and stand on railway tracks to see Raavan Dahan. “Why should we lie? Yes we have been seeing this mela near railway tracks for years but nothing untoward happened. We know it is unsafe to stand there but earlier whenever train used to approach, there was some alert or a loud horn and we used to move aside. On Friday, there was not a single horn or any alert, it just came running like a bullet and mowed down people. The train was speeding and crushed whoever came in its way. Why there was no warning like in the previous years?” asked Rahul.

The damaged engine of the train which crushed people during Dussehra festivities. (Express Photo)

Locals remember only one such time when the festivities were not held in the area, last year, otherwise it was held uninterrupted every year. “We are seeing this mela for decades. Every year people swarm on railway tracks to watch it. Everyone played with fire each year but took it casually as nothing happened. However, this time it backfired. Earlier, no one ever bothered, knowing well it was unsafe but trains also used to come slowly. This time it was speeding,” said another local.

Sameer Kumar (22), another eyewitness whose friend Brijbhan (20) was crushed to death, said, “Raavan jal raha tha aur humein pata hi nahi chala kab train aa gayi. (Raavan effigy was on fire and we did not get to know when the train arrived). Burning of the effigy and the train arrived exactly at the same time and in the sound of firecrackers we were completely unaware of the approaching train. My four other friends were found safe but we lost Brijbhan. Why the train driver did not press any hooter to alert us?”

“For me this train was no less than a Raavan that ate my brother,” says Ram Kher, brother of Brijbhan, who was a paint polish worker.

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