In 2012, a government report said 15,000 people are killed every year while crossing India’s rail tracks. While many die because of unmanned railway gates — there are still 12,582 of them in the country — a substantial number is killed because they refuse to adhere to safety norms.
The 37 killed and 30 injured (at the time of going to Press) in the Bihar rail accident on Monday fall in the second category, if the initial reports are to be believed.
According to Indian Railways, the passengers, mostly pilgrims (kanwariyas), alighted from a local train — on the non-platform side — at Dhamara Ghat station and were on their way to the nearby Katyayani temple at Saharsa for special prayers when they were hit by the Saharsa-Patna Rajya Rani Express.
The Express, which was on a “signal movement”, meaning that it was not scheduled to stop at Dhamara Ghat, was hurtling down on the opposite track at 80 kilometre per hour.
Though the driver of the Express applied emergency brakes, it was too late. The death toll is expected to rise as many of the injured are critical.
An internal inquiry has been ordered into the incident. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of the victims.
As expected, the mishap led to mayhem at the station. Blaming the railway authorities, angry pilgrims and local residents set the Express and two other trains on fire and pulled out the driver of the Express train and beat him up.
They also attacked the railway station and held the staff hostage. Even at the cost of sounding insensitive, it must be said that the pilgrims had absolutely no business getting off on the wrong side of the train and jumping on to the rail track to take a short cut to their destination.
Such incidents are not new in this country but there are many people — as we have seen once again — who refuse to learn from past accidents. In fact, pilgrims, especially kanwariyas, are known to flout rules; every year during this time in north India there are several cases of kanwariyas clashing with motorists, residents and the police.
A poll being run on Hindustantimes.com on the train tragedy shows that there are many who believe that the pilgrims were responsible for what happened in Dhamara Ghat.To the question, "Who is to blame for the Bihar train tragedy?" 94% of the respondents held the pilgrims crossing the railway tracks responsible for the mishap while only 3% blamed the driver of the Express train.
After the accident, the Railway Board chairman said there would be a drive to sensitise people about the dangers of crossing tracks. While this is welcome, no amount of sensitisation would work, if passengers have so little value for their own safety and so little respect for basic civic behaviour.