Nine people died in February 2010 fire, and many survivors and families have come together to ensure such incidents never repeat.

Beyond Carlton As Towers reopen fire tragedy survivors on trauma grieving and moving forward
news Fire Safety Tuesday, July 04, 2017 - 17:20

Maneesha Ramakrishnan speaks with a raspy voice, weighed down by several years of physical and emotional struggle. “The hollow feeling which accompanies the mention of the word ‘Carlton’ will not go away for my entire new life,” the 47-year-old tells TNM.

Maneesha is one of the survivors of the fire that engulfed Carlton Towers in Bengaluru in February 2010. While three people died after they jumped out of the building to escape the flames, six others succumbed to injuries. Several other survivors suffer the repercussions of their injuries, even today. And now, seven years after the horror, Carlton Towers now stands renovated, ready to reopen for business.

For Uday Vijayan, this reopens many old wounds. His son, 23-year-old Akhil, was one of the people who lost their lives in the accident. “It’s still a really emotional issue for me. It’s tough to believe that it will be business as usual there,” Uday tells TNM. “But I guess, that’s the world. It goes on,” he says.

Uday Vijayan/Facebook

For Maneesha too, the mention of the place is enough to induce the empty, dreadful feeling. She calls the years after the fire her “new life”, because being trapped in the burning building for two hours changed her and her life as she knew it.

She inhaled a lot of smoke and the poisonous carbon monoxide caused her vocal chords and windpipe to collapse. After nine surgeries and eight months in the hospital, including three in an ICU, Maneesha now breaths through a tracheostomy tube. “Throughout this time, there has been no help from the government or the Towers’ owners. The owners have not spoken two kind words to us, let alone help financially,” she rues.

Maneesha in the hospital. Source

Like Maneesha, Stephen, another survivor, now lives with a tracheostomy tube inside his throat. A lift mechanic at the time, the 39-year-old had gone to Carlton Towers to repair one of the service lifts when he got trapped in the fire. After he was rescued by fire fighters, Stephen spent a long time in the hospital and underwent several surgeries.

“He does speak, but has difficulty breathing. Sometimes the tube gets blocked, and we have to rush to the hospital. His condition has become very critical at times,” Velamani, Stephen’s younger brother tells TNM. Fortunately for Stephen, his medical bills were taken care of by the lift servicing company he worked for, but only after his family negotiated massive amounts of bureaucratic red tape to claim the amount.  

Stephen continues to work in the same company, but cannot take up assignments outside the office. He lives with Velamani and is wary of getting married because he doesn’t know if a woman would want to be with him. On the Towers being reopened, Velamani asks, “So many people died in the tragedy and many others were injured. They have invested so much money into renovating the buildings. What have they given to the people who suffered?”

Beyond Carlton

A month after Uday lost his son, he wondered how other families were coping with their loss. “Many of them lost their breadwinners,” Uday points out. To channel his grief over Akhil’s death, Uday sought out these families to make a difference towards the larger issue of fire safety as a group.

‘Beyond Carlton’ was born out of this initiative. With Uday as its Managing Trustee, the citizens’ group has been working with NGOs, citizen groups and the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services to raise awareness about fire safety in Bengaluru for the past few years.

One of their first victories, Uday says, was a PIL filed in the Karnataka High Court. This led the Court to order that all high-rise buildings (of 15 metres height and above) must obtain certification of their safety mechanisms from the fire department every two years. This notification was issued in July 2011, less than a year after the Carlton Towers tragedy.

Beyond Carlton has also been conducting awareness campaigns and their biggest takeaway is that people in India tend to be apathetic towards public safety. And fire safety comes last on the list, says Uday. “We think that you and I can never be in a fire. That’s probably what my son thought too when he went inside the Towers that day. But he never came out,” he says.

Maneesha joined Beyond Carlton in 2012, still reeling from trauma but driven by a desire to take control of her mind and body. Weighing barely 30kg when she left the hospital, Maneesha says she used meditation and focused her anger and grief into working to improve the state of fire safety in other places. She even adopted the moniker ‘The Queen of Carlton Fire’, and went on to organise a flash mob at the Towers in 2013 with her sons.

Source

“I started working with Beyond Carlton because I want people to be responsible to themselves and be human to themselves. They should know about how safe they are, or if they are putting themselves at risk. I learnt this during my frustrating interactions with the Carlton Towers owners. They can get clearances from BBMP and other authorities. But will their conscience be clear?” Maneesha asks.

Beyond Carlton is currently running a campaign using data from the National Crime Records Bureau to create shock value about lax fire safety in India and to raise awareness. “We’re using fatality to create shock and generate more value for life,” Uday explains.  

Beyond Carlton/Facebook

Uday says he has nothing against the Carlton Towers being back in business. “But I just hope that the people going in there everyday take a moment to remember the nine innocent people whose lives were cut short that day,” he says.

(With inputs from Anna Isaac)

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