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Friday February 4 2005 08:49 IST

By Karmayogi

Stoicism is in our blood. We take a stampede as one that is inevitable. In the scheme of things, it looks all right. Those who are in charge of managing such events, if such authorities exist, can review the situation to find out whether there is anything that can be done.

If the inquiry leads to some ideas, it is better to consider them. In recent decades, temple festivals have received an enormous crowd which is under no one's control. Electric wire giving shock by short circuit is not an unknown phenomenon. Some thirty years ago, the 19-story Bank Building in Bombay was on fire. The cause was reported to be the short circuit of electric wires. Fortunately, as it was at night, the building caught fire but there were no human casualties.

Children in Western schools are given the training in fire drills. They are told and trained not to panic. The moment the alarm is raised, they stand in attention and do not move. This training is from early years. Of the 20,000 people who were in the World Trade Centre on Sept. 11th, the fateful day, 5500 people died or were wounded.

But for such a training in their early years, double the number would have suffered. Those who have lived outside India, especially in the USA, know how strictly the police enforce the traffic rules. Erring drivers are always surprised by the ubiquitous police. The inherent efficiency of the Indian police is high. They have acquitted themselves very well wherever they serve. But the general lax attitude to public behaviour or behaviour in the public is the cause of such lapses as stampedes.

Electric insulation is not done with the best materials. Often it is flimsy. It is a department of life where no one is in charge. Rules can be made governing such practices in hundreds of fields, and enforced with a greater sense of urgency.

One reason for the vast crowds at festivals is the growing prosperity. It is not people, but a mob. They are oblivious, delightfully forgetful, have no training in discipline or self-discipline. Still, if only the police, the temple authorities and related NGOs take whatever precautionary measures that are now available at their disposal, such tragedies can be minimised. The Indian administration is resourceful and efficient as we witnessed fifteen years ago in the conduct of the Asian sports festival.

Give them the authority needed, an occasion to test their innate talents, offer them incentives, I am sure they will rise to the occasion. When a telegram is delivered a day later, we no longer take it lying down. The department is made to explain or offer a compensation. Awareness is coming into its own in a small way at a hundred points. The recent tragedy must make us act and use our resources fully.
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