Some villagers are in fierce solidarity with the committee, while others want them to own up

While Kollam temple officials abscond locals divided over where blame liesPuttingal Devi temple committee president Jayalal's house
news Kollam Fire Monday, April 11, 2016 - 14:02

Barely 100 meters away from the Puttingal temple is a house that remains locked, a bulb on the porch that was left on is still glowing. A car and a bike are parked outside. This is the house of Puttingal Devi temple committee president Jayalal. He, along with 14 other members of the committee, has been absconding since the tragedy on Sunday. The police have named each of them as accused in the case.

“I saw him last on Saturday morning. He was living alone. Obviously he was not planning to run away, it just happened like that,” says a neighbour.

Though Jayalal and others have been the media’s focus, and have been blamed for the accident, at the grounds where the tragedy occurred, most people are reluctant to even reveal where their houses were

“Why blame the temple committee people? Why is the media behind them? We will not show you the house,” said an agitated man.

Biju, an auto driver pointed out that though fingers were being pointed at the committee for exerting pressure to ensure that the restrictions on the festival were lifted, the locals were equally to blame for it. “If the festival had not happened, each one of these locals would have been furious at the committee. The people are the real committee, they wanted the festival. The fifteen members are just people from amongst us. How can we single out them now?” he asked.

Devarajan (middle) and Biju (right), like many other villagers, are divided on the issue

Even if the temple committee was only acting according to the wishes of the people, should they have fled as the tragedy unfolded? “Why? Why should they not flee? Will you get them out of jail? Is it their fault that the fire happened or the building crashed?” the agitated man yelled again, unwilling to give his name.

But there are also those who believe that Jayalal, Secretary Krishnankutty Pillai and others should be in jail. “When all of us were running trying to take victims to the hospitals, these people fled. I live near the temple and all these years the committee never helped when our houses were damaged due to fireworks. Why do they not own up? They brought these dangerous fireworks here, some of them so huge that it didn’t even lift off,” said 62-year-old Devarajan.

Arun Lal, a lawyer who has previously served as secretary of the committee also holds the members responsible. “There are clear rules on the quantity of fireworks and explosive material that can be used; all those were flouted and committee members are answerable,” he says.

 

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