Thiruvanathapuram, April 10: It was hardly the ideally peaceful Sunday morning that one expects to see. Some 100 people were killed in the aftermath of a massive explosion during a fireworks display at the temple of Puttingal Goddess in the coastal town of Paravur, South of Kollam district in Kerala. Some 300 people are admitted in various hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvanathapuram and the death toll is only expected to rise, as only a limited number of doctors race against time to save the huge influx of critically injured victims.
The images of the destruction are heart rending to say the least. For the longest time, I struggled to make some sense of this tragedy, to find some logic, to give some respectable reason about why so many people would have to die, but I just drew a blank. Then as I probed further, I came to know that the fire works menace is not new in the state of Kerala. Incidents like the Kollam tragedy occur every now and then, but they are not reported as the casualties did not go above 20. Also Read: Kollam Temple fire tragedy: 108 dead, PM Narendra Modi announces Rs 2 lakh ex-gratia for victim’s kin; 10 developments
Now, I am no one to say that fire works display should be disallowed, since I believe in the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to practice one’s own religion. But I have a problem when that right is practised without any restraints. Is the Right to practise one’s own Religion bigger than the Right to Life guaranteed by the same Constitution? So much so that, despite several incidents of casualties and injuries due to the fire crackers ritual, the authorities showed complete disregard for safety measures.
Temporary permits were handed out despite the District Magistrate’s notification, warning against any breach of order restricting the temple authorities from bursting crackers. The notification was based, (if you must know) on a complaint received by the DM, from a woman who said that her house, which was located some 25 Kms away, was damaged every year, due to the fire works. 25 Kilometers! Yes, THAT is how far you can hear the fire works from, if you happen to be around the area, where some 1,500 Hindu Malayalis are celebrating their New Year. Also Read: Karnataka to send medical team to Kollam for relief to injured
But why single this festival out? There is another festival that is celebrated in Thrissur, known as the Thrissur Pooram, which also has similar fireworks display ritual, where one priest competes with another, to see which one’s display is better and noisier. Fireworks with potent explosives are sometimes used in this competition to appease the Goddess. Sometimes people loose arms, sometimes some die. This time round though, as over a 100 (and counting) have died, this tragedy is turning heads and eliciting strong reactions from people and the media.
That, combined with the fact that the state goes to polls next month. Politicians, seeing an opportunity in a tragedy, are flocking to the state. Relief amounts have been announced for the kin of those whose lives have been decimated for a worthless display of devotion. But till now, there has been no talk of doing away with the ritual altogether. Oh no, they never talk against religion, when the elections are around, do they? Even if we consider the fact that the tragedy is still unfolding, I doubt that the ritual will ever be questioned, or that people will ever be told to tune the ‘celebrations’ down.
As Karl Marx said, ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. It has indeed blinded us towards reason, logic and everything that makes sense, and the Kollam tragedy, will be one of the biggest reminders of this very fact.