Mortal remains of 31 fire victims brought home, Kerala pays homage

Cochin International Airport witnessed scenes of grief and loss on Friday, June 14, as the mortal remains of 31 individuals who passed away in the fire in Kuwait’s Mangaf were brought home on an Indian Air Force flight.
Mortal remains of 31 fire victims brought home, Kerala pays homage
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It was only a little over a week ago that Binoy Thomas, a resident of Kerala's Chavakkad, travelled to Kuwait for a new job due to financial difficulties back home. On the 10th day, June 14, his friend Manjunadh was waiting for his mortal remains at the Cochin International Airport. Forty-four-year-old Binoy was among the 23 Keralites who died in a devastating fire accident in Kuwait's Mangaf in the early hours of July 12. His family, including his wife Jinitha and a son, were waiting in their new, half-built house in Chavakkad for a last glimpse of Binoy.

Cochin International Airport witnessed scenes of grief and loss around 10.30 am on Friday, June 14, as the mortal remains of 31 individuals, among whom 23 were from Kerala, seven from Tamil Nadu, and one from Karnataka, were brought back via an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft. The relatives, friends, and neighbours of the 23 Keralites were present at the airport from the morning to receive the bodies of their loved ones, holding on to their immortal memories. 

Like Manjunadh, most of those who had come to the airport to receive their loved ones looked lost. “We did not inform Binoy’s family about his death when we first came to know about it. When they called his phone, it was ringing. That gave them hope. However, his wife understood things when she heard his name on the television yesterday. Now she is calling me and asking me when Binoy will come back,” Manjunadh told TNM.

Relatives of those who passed away in the Kuwait fire accident wait at the airport in Kochi
Relatives of those who passed away in the Kuwait fire accident wait at the airport in Kochi

Besides the deceased's dear ones, several political leaders had also arrived at the airport on Friday morning. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan, Ministers Veena George, P Rajeev, and K Rajan, Union Minister of State Suresh Gopi, and Ernakulam MP Hibi Eden were present at the airport to receive the bodies. 

Among the 23 Keralites who passed away in the fire, two are from Thiruvananthapuram, three from Kannur, five from Pathanamthitta, one from Alappuzha, two from Kasaragod, three from Kottayam, two from Malappuram, four from Kollam, and one from Thrissur. After landing in Kochi, the IAF aircraft carrying the mortal remains of 14 other Indians flew to Delhi. 

Babu, hailing from Pathanamthitta, was on the verge of tears as he recollected the memories of his son Cibin T Abraham, who was supposed to arrive at his home in a month to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday. Babu also came to know about his son’s death through television. “My brother Saji already knew about it, but he kept it from me. However, I realised he was gone when I heard ‘Cibin Kottayam’ on a channel,” Babu told TNM. 

Cibin, who worked as a cashier in a supermarket for the last eight years, had come to Kerala nine months ago when his mother-in-law died. “He called Anjumol [his wife] hours before the incident and told her that he is trying to get leave in August,” Babu added.  

Princy, a native of Pathanamthitta, was waiting for the remains of two persons — her brother -in-law Mathew Thomas (53) and their relative Shibu Varghese (38). Mathew used to work in Kuwait for the past 32 years. Shibu Varghese is his nephew. “On the day the fire broke out, we came to know that he was missing. Yesterday evening, we received news of his death,” Princy said, while waiting along with her husband and two children. 

Among the deceased was 42-year-old Nooh, a Malappuram-native, who used to work as a fisherman during his initial days in Kuwait. While his relatives and friends came to the airport early in the morning to collect his remains, his family, which includes his three daughters, waited at home. Nooh’s friend Jaffar had flown to Kochi from Abu Dhabi upon receiving the tragic news. “It was only two months ago that he came to Kerala to attend my housewarming. Then he went back to join a new company,” Jaffar said. 

The coffins carrying the mortal remains
The coffins carrying the mortal remains

Tensions between state and Union

Even as the state grieved, political tensions prevailed between the state and Union governments. Kerala’s Health Minister Veena George and a senior civil servant had planned to go to Kuwait to coordinate the relief efforts, since most of the people who died and or were injured were from Kerala. However, the Union government denied political clearance for the Minister to travel. 

Speaking to TNM, Minister Veena George said, “I was not denied clearance based on some technicality. It's quite unfortunate that we didn’t receive consent despite the fact that more than half of the lives lost were from Kerala. The majority who are under treatment in different hospitals in Kuwait are also from Kerala. Many previous governments have given consent in similar situations.”

Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan also called it unfortunate that the Union government  denied the Minister travel clearance.

However, Kerala’s lone BJP MP and Union Minister of State Suresh Gopi avoided the question about the Minister being denied permission by saying that it was not the appropriate time to discuss it. “Anyone who wants to prop it up as a controversy can keep doing that. There will be no fairness in their thoughts and propaganda, which will fall as a stink on the tears of the bereaved. We are looking after them,” he told TNM.

Ambulance drivers from Tamil Nadu
Ambulance drivers from Tamil Nadu

List of deceased

The 23 deceased from Kerala were identified as, Arun B (Thiruvananthapuram), Nithin Koothur (Kannur), Aneesh Kumar (Kannur), Thomas C Oommen (Pathanamthitta), Mathew Thomas (Alappuzha), Akash Sasidharan Nair (Pathanamthitta), Rengith (Kasaragod), Shibu Varghese (Pathanamthitta), Kelu Ponmaleri (Kasaragod), Stephin Abraham Sabu (Kottayam),Bahuleyan Marakkadath Parambil (Malappuram), Lukose Vadakottu Oonnunny (Kollam), Sajan George (Kollam), Pulinkunna Vasudevan Muraleedharan Nair (Pathanamthitta), Viswa Krishnan (Kannur), Sreehari Pradeep (Kottayam), Shameer  Umarudheen (Kollam), and Sumesh Pillai (Kollam)   

Mortal remains of seven individuals from different districts of Tamil Nadu were also brought to Kochi. Eight ambulances were ready at the airport to take the bodies since early morning on Friday. Tamilarasan, an ambulance driver from Tiruppur, said he and 13 other drivers from the state started to Kochi on the evening of June 13. The ambulances were arranged by the government of Tamil Nadu.

The seven deceased from Tamil Nadu were identified as Mariappan Veerachamy (Thoothukudi), Raju Ebamesan (Tiruchirappalli), Chinnadhurai (Cuddalore), Sivakumar Govindan (Chennai), Bhunaf Richard (Thanjavur), Karuppanan Ramu (Ramanathapuram), and Mohammed Sharief (Villupuram). 

The mortal remains of Vijayakumar Prasanna from Karnataka were taken to his home state on another flight.

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