Misplaced faith kills the pilgrim
It is a shame that on Dusshera day, we had to witness a human tragedy of unbelievable proportions unfold. Even as the Indian authorities managed to stave off the worst effects of Cyclone Phailin, stampede in Datia caused over 115 lives to be lost. It is deeply saddening as well as disconcerting that even as lakhs of devotees thronged the Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh to get a glimpse of Durga on Dusshera, they didn’t adhere to basic rules and regulations to avoid potential accidents, resulting in the inevitable. While it remains to be established who sparked the rumours of the broken bridge that led to panic and the eventual stampede, what remains unquestioned is the basis of such congregations and preparedness on the part of the administration to manage the crowd better. It is disheartening, to say the least, that pilgrims on their way to attain some sort of spiritual enlightenment, would resort to unethical means and jump the queue and get to their destination faster, so as to minimise the arduous journey of crossing the footbridge. But isn’t it ironical that devotees seeking godly salvation would seek such spiritual shortcuts and actually effect an unwarranted accident in the process? Moreover, why is it that we have such a short memory that we forget the lessons of the Kedarnath debacle barely four months into the past, when too many people congregated on their way to the holy shrine, without adequate preparations and awareness to deal with nature’s (not unjustified) fury and ecological backlash?
Clearly, there’s much amiss in our approach towards organised religion and ecological sustainability, since we do not seem to ever strike a worthwhile balance between the two. While it is commendable that our authorities, particularly the Indian Meteorological Department, cracked the onset of Cyclone Phailin at the nick of time, and the state governments, in collaboration with the centre, managed to bring about the biggest evacuation in recorded history, thereby minimising the loss of human lives, we had the exact contrary happening in Datia, courtesy human impatience. Increasingly, the manner in which we are dealing with nature, including human nature, is being shred off the virtues of tolerance and patience, as we look towards maximising the benefits and profits, all for a short-term gain, and at the expense of drastic degradation of our environment, climate and wider habitats. While the authorities shouldn’t have allowed the brawl on the bridge leading to the Ratangarh temple to escalate into a stampede, the fact remains that such impromptu developments cannot always be adequately managed, albeit the proportion it eventually assumed and brought about the most unfortunate loss of 115 lives, including women and children, was definitely avoidable and unwarranted. Evidently, this signified a major lacuna in our understanding of how to conduct crowds at sensitive sites such as religious shrines, which are particularly prone to spontaneous eruptions of violence, especially of communal nature. Certainly, even as modern science and latest advancements in technology help us to beat the odds against natural phenomena such as cyclones and landslides, we must investigate into reasons that are pushing up their frequencies.