It was a busy Saturday evening two days ahead of Diwali. Sarojini Nagar market was lined with vendors selling crackers, Laxmi-Ganesha statues, earthen lamps and electric lights. The market was brimming with people and many complained that there was hardly enough space to stand.
At 5.56pm, a high intensity blast plunged the area into darkness.
Minutes before Sarojini Nagar, similar blasts had shaken Paharganj and Govindpuri.
The serial blasts in 2005 left 60 dead and 210 injured. The blasts were so strong that bodies of several people could not be recovered. In Sarojini Nagar, identity of five victims had to be established with a DNA test while seven others remain unidentified.
What followed was a long and painful journey to justice and normality.
Vinod Poddar, who had come to the market with his two children lost his seven-year-old son Karan in the blast. His daughter, Diksha, who was 11 at that time was grievously hurt. Vinod himself was injured in the left leg. Diksha had to undergo plastic surgery while Vinod’s leg had to be amputated knee below. After waiting for nearly two years, the Poddar family received a compensation of Rs 1 lakh from Delhi government. The compensation amount, Vinod says, sufficed only for an artificial limb. The family received Rs 4 lakh as compensation for Karan’s death.
“The limb, which cost me around Rs 1 lakh, was of good quality. I could ride a scooter with its help and even climb a mountain. I had got my life back because of it,” he says. But, 10 years after the incident, the prosthetic limb has become non-functional and with no support from the government for a new one, Poddar fears he would be forced to live paralysed a life. “I don’t have the money for a new limb. The old one has almost stopped working,” he says.
With some financial help from Sarojini Nagar Mini Market association, Poddar got his prosthetic limb repaired two years ago but that only served to make it last a little longer. Vinod says the doctors are now referring a limb that wouldn’t allow him ankle movement. “When I asked the doctor of a prominent city hospital to recommend a new limb, he denied saying that when you can walk with the help of a limb that would cost around Rs 10,000, why do you want a limb worth lakhs,” he said.
Poddar has now written to the ministry of health but has got no response so far. “For survivors like us, every moment is agony. Each time I hear of a blast, I just pray that the survivors don’t go through those things that I did,” he said.
10-year-battle for compensation
There are others too, whose bodies could not be recovered after the blasts and whose families had to fight a decade long battle for compensation. Take for example Ram Jeewan who worked as a salesman at one of the shops in Sarojini Nagar. Two to three days after the blast Ram Jeevan’s brother Ram Kishore came to Delhi to meet him but came to know from the shopkeepers that his brother had died in the blast.
Kishore went to the authorities to claim the compensation but had to return empty handed as his brother’s body had not been recovered. He ran from pillar to post for several years and finally decided to move court in 2012.
After a three-year-long case, the court recently ordered that the victim’s family be given the compensation along with interest which amounted to Rs 8,67,000.
Similar is the case of Ganeshan, who was at Sarojini Nagar at the time of the blast. Ganeshan’s body could not be recovered and his mother too fought a long battle in the court to be finally awarded a compensation like Ram Kishore. “We had to run from pillar to post to prove that my son was not missing but was killed in the bomb blast. Only after the court’s intervention, we were given the compensation. I will now use the money to get my daughter married and invest the rest for my younger son’s future,” Palaniammal, 56, said.
At Govindpuri bus depot, driver Kuldeep Singh along with conductor Budh Prakash saved 70 lives that day. Singh and Prakash took the bus in which a bomb had been planted to a less crowded area in Govindpuri and evacuated it. When they carefully opened the bag, they found wires inside. Kuldeep did the first thing that struck him — he flung the bag away. It exploded mid-air, wounding five bystanders and cost Kuldeep his eyesight and hearing. Kuldeep was promised a house which he has not got till date. “I live in a government flat in Shadipur for which I am paying rent. I had thought the house was given to me permanently but later turned out that rent is being charged and I will have to evacuate the house once I retire from my job in the DTC depot.”