The children of Surjit Singh of Muhawa didn’t want to go to school on Tuesday that turned tragic.
“They were excited that my younger brother was coming over from Dubai,” he said. “In the morning, they spoke to him on telephone and told him they were staying at home and waiting for the toys. He told them not to miss school, or he wouldn’t bring them anything.”
“I wish I had let them stay,” said the man who lost his daughter, Sehajdeep Kaur, and son, Yuvraj Singh in Tuesday’s accident on the village bridge near Attari. The parents standing outside Amritsar hospitals, hands folded in prayer for the injured schoolchildren, had a bigger regret. They were aware that the narrow bridge without railing was dangerous. But they never expected their children to be its victims.
Gursahib Singh of Tibbi village came to the hospital to look for his daughter, only to be told doctors had declared her dead and sent the body home. “Tuhanu Eh Kam Sujh Reha hai (All you worry about is this)!” he told television reporters heckling him for a byte. “Meri kuri ghar mari pai aa (My daughter is lying dead at home). The government’s negligence has ruined me.”
Then there was Amarjit Singh of Muhawa. “My children — Jobanjit Singh (15) and Gurleen Kaur (13) are my entire capital,” he said. “I was at home when my neighbour came rushing in with the news that the school bus had fallen into the drain. My capital was saved but my thoughts are with the families who lost their assets.”
Jagroop Singh has both his children fighting for life at Arora Hospital. “DAV was the only good school in the area, so I put Gurnoor (5) and Abhijot (7) there,” he said. “The boys were happy when we saw them off in the morning.”
Villager Kuldeep Singh took a jibe at the government: “Have the ministers and the legislators who make tall claims of development every day ever passed over this bridge? Even now when we have lost so many children, will they care to renovate it?”
“We warned the authorities concerned many times that a tragedy on the bridge was waiting to happen,” he said. “They ignored even written requests,” villager Sardara Singh said. Harpreet Singh, father of victim Gurmanpreet Kaur, said: “We’ll not let any callous minister enter in the village.”
A senior police official from the area, who had come to look at the injured students, said on the condition of anonymity that: “People avoid the bridge, for they know the risk, and the reputed school should also have thought about the children’s safety.”