Tragedies like Kollam and Kolkata occur because human beings are arrogant and corrupt.

Kollam tragedy Can we please save gods from our venality and stupidity
Voices Opinion Monday, April 11, 2016 - 12:04

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) is not known for speedy action on medical malpractices in India of which there are quite a few. Thousands of Indians die due to medical errors and even more numbers of doctors have fake degrees. Most recently it has remained silent over water shortages in operating rooms because of severe drought.

So when the IMA decided to go to court on Sunday seeking a curb on the use of firecrackers following the Kerala temple tragedy that has left over a hundred dead and more than two hundred injured, some questions come to mind. The doctors are rightly worried about noise and air pollution.  However, I take issue with them for framing the discourse in the context of religious festivities, firecrackers and disease. I will come to this shortly.

At the time of writing over 100 people are dead and some 280 injured in a major fire in the Puttingal Devi Temple complex at Paravur near Kollam in Kerala. The accident occurred on Sunday during a display of fireworks when sparks ignited a room full of crackers and pyrotechnic material.  The display was illegal. The Kollam District Magistrate had not granted permission to the temple for their annual competitive fireworks programme. A commission is enquiring into what happened and will submit its report in six months. Committees, panels and other grouping in India are euphemisms for inaction. Worse, they never pin responsibility.  As if on cue, Kollam temple authorities and contractors tasked with the fireworks display are absconding.

Before the tragedy, the report of the tehsildar had said the temple could only go ahead with the celebrations if conditions were met including limited use of firecrackers and crowd control. Kollam district police also noted that irrespective of rules, the possibility of the temple exceeding the prescribed quantity of fireworks was high. They also said chances of a tragedy due to negligence could not be ruled out. Callousness is au courant in India as nobody gets punished. Rules were broken and India woke up to the terrible tragedy on Sunday morning. Read here.

Firework displays and celebrations are held all over the world. When they are purely celebratory – beginning or end of international sports events, for example – they are held under very strict guidelines which are adhered to. National days festivities in many of the world end with a fireworks display and the Chinese have displaced the Italians as best in the trade. In India they have a religious significance in addition to celebratory ones whether it be Diwali or Vijaydashami, weddings, village functions and city celebrations. How all this can be regulated to prevent accidents and curb pollution must be discussed but without losing sight of the fact that in Kollam rules were blatantly ignored.

Enter the IMA. “We all feel that a judicial intervention is the only way to prevent such tragedies. Prompted by this temple fire tragedy, our Thiruvananthapuram branch has decided to approach the High Court,” President Dr. Jayakrishnan told PTI. Immediate past Vice President of IMA Kerala Dr. Abraham Varghese said the high-level noise caused by fireworks in temples and other places of worship cause sever ear damage, bring about diabetes and could also precipitate asthmatic attacks among people. Read here.

My problem with the framing is as follows. Frames decide what is at stake. In this case it was human lives and a temple festival. Frames decide who is responsible. The documents from the district office leave little room for doubt about responsibility for ensuring safety of people and sanctity of the celebrations. The fireworks should not have been held.  Finally, frames decide where solutions must come from. An enquiry has been ordered and results will be known in six months. I find it difficult to believe it will take that long. Committees are anathema to accountability in a country where human lives have little value. The recent tragedy in Kolkata where a flyover crashed killing several people will also leave the guilty unpunished. The construction company had the gumption to say the crumbling flyover was an act of god.

That leaves us with diabetes. India is the world’s diabetes capital. There are studies that discuss links between noise pollution and diabetes. They note that among other possible causes, stress hormones can cause reduced insulin production which can contribute to diabetes. If this logic is followed, all noisy celebrations, religious functions, political meetings, electioneering, IPL events etc.  must be banned. Game?

If the IMA is serious, they should curb the sugar drinks and fatty foods industry, especially their false advertising and aggressive marketing. They are the hazard merchants. In the pecking order for causing diabetes and risk factors, noise makes up the rear. Let us not use the breaking of rules as a ruse to spoil the fun in our festivities – all faiths included.

PS: Should we also ban phones because people kill themselves while taking selfies?

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