“This is not the Devi’s fault. This is the fault of police officers," said a local shopowner

An insiders view Why Kollam villagers dont want the fireworks to stopPTI
news Kollam fire Monday, April 11, 2016 - 13:46

At the grounds of the Puttingal temple in Kollam’s Paravur, the remnants of Sunday's  tragedy are still very visible. Buildings that collapsed, houses that were damaged and pieces of burnt clothes strewn everywhere.

As TV reporters lined up to do their lives, some local ire was turned at a particular channel for their ‘negative reporting’ about the festival. Soon a large crowd of agitated local people gathered, each one with a different view point of what went wrong, but almost all agreed on one thing- the kambam (or fireworks) for the Devi must go on.

“This is not the Devi’s fault. This is the fault of police officers who should have ensured each year that the fireworks were within limits. They never did that and people died because of that. Why should the Kambam not go on?” asked Ramachandran, a local shop vendor.

The temple was built many years ago based on a legend that once a woman belonging to a backward caste accidentally slashed an ant hill with her sickle. Panicked as blood started oozing from the ant hill, she ran to the Ezhava leader nearby. He declared that the ant hill had been the abode of Bhadrakali, installed an idol there and years later a temple was constructed over the spot.

Arun Lal, a lawyer who lives right next to the temple and who has fought for years for more representation of the Ezhavas in the temple committee, also does not want a ban on fireworks.

“We have always been against the loud and gigantic crackers. But the kambam should not stop, the Devi likes it,” he says.

Sheeba, a homemaker, shares Arun’s views. “I don't want loud fireworks, just the ones with light. But it can't be banned,” she said.

Even as there have been calls for a ban on the use and storage of fireworks in places of worship, the locals do not agree. Some even claim that the festival had been going on without problems for years, and it was the administration’s interference that caused the tragedy.

This kambam has been going on for years. The temple committee had paid for the fireworks before the order prohibiting the fireworks was passed by the district administration. The temple committee feared they would be found out, so they stored all the fireworks in one place. "Otherwise they would have been stored in two sheds and lit on fire by two competing groups,” says Anand, a 29-year-old.

Saibal, a local contract worker, says that though he is a Muslim, he considered the temple tradition as indispensable. “I have seen the festival right from my childhood, this Devi and her temple is dear to all of us. An accident happened, but that does not mean we need to stop the fireworks festival completely. That’s not what the Devi or locals want,” he said.
In the list of 108 people who have died in the tragedy, not many are from Puttingal itself. What if the tragedy had claimed more lives from the village? “That will not matter. Tradition has to go on. But we are all of the opinion that the scale has to come down,” says Arun Lal

Does the temple committee have political backing? “It is easy for the media to pinpoint few names. But take my word, every party and every politician will support the festival,” Arun Lal says.

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