Bees Saal Baad- the eeriness of the thriller film of yesteryears reverberates in the empty spaces of almost 52 villages in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Striking similarities are abandoned stones,houses covered with wild grass,wards and corridors of broken primary health centres (PHC) that witnessed heaps of corpses,graveyards where mass cremations took place and haunting silence in classrooms of schools that have not witnessed childrens chatter for the past 20 years.
The memories of the devastating earthquake that claimed around 10,000 human lives in the wee hours of September 30,1993,are still fresh here as a silent cry of death,devastation and helplessness lingers. And,while ghosts may haunt the old abandoned villages,what the survivors now rehabilitated to 52 adjacent colonies are scared of are not spirits,but a constant feeling that 1993 may repeat.
Rabbani Nalgave (35) of Sastur village was a teenager in 1993. Though Nalgave and his parents survived,his younger brother,who was sleeping inside the house,died when the stone and soil structure of their house collapsed. It failed to sustain the earthquake that measured 6.4 on the Richter scale. At 3.56 am,the village woke up to cries. Every house had lost at least a member. In some cases,entire families were wiped off, said Nalgave,as he stands in the main square of the rehabilitated Sastur.
That night,Sastur alone lost close to 1,200 lives. Nalgave organises prayers every year on September 30 to pay homage to those who lost their lives. In devastation too,he has a bitter feeling that unlike Killari,his village never got the attention it deserved. More people died here than in Killari. But,we are in Usmanabad district and Killari in Latur. The politicians in Latur ensured that Killari got all the attention and funds, he claimed.
Nalgaves old Sastur village,where once around 6,000 people resided,has been uninhibited since September 30,1993.
The PHC of the village,which was to be inaugurated within days of the fateful day,suffered cracks due to the earthquake. Miscreants reportedly took away wooden doors,window frames and whatever they could lay their hands on,giving the structure a dilapidated look.
A primary school building situated close by is considered a not-so-good place to visit as 350 of its innocent students were buried alive under the debris of their respective homes.
Amidst the rubble,two structures remain a mosque and a temple. It was the last day of Ganesh festival and it also coincided with Gyarahvi, another festival. Every year on this day,we sleep outside our houses. We still fear that another earthquake may strike on the same day, Nalgave said.
Basappa Ramling Mali of Balsur village recalls how his village awaited the arrival of 35 bodies. Most of them from his village had gone to neighbouring Sastur,where they died. Mali has a 21-year-old son,Antu,who was trapped under the debris and had suffered head injuries. He was a bright student. Ever since the injury,he hasnt been able to perform well in his studies, said Mali,who recalls how he rushed his son to a doctor on his M-80 bike. A stone structure around a door frame is all that remains of Malis old house.
His neighbour,Shivaji Patil (71),who was a police constable then,said the politics in the area had been such that the names of the victims of his village were removed from the list of beneficiaries. As a result,he continues to stay in his old dilapidated house,praying that another earthquake does not strike. In the past 20 years,there have been numerous shocks and we always live in the fear that concrete roof can come down any minute. We dont want to wait for that day. We prefer sleeping under tin sheds, Patil said as he pointed to a tin shed that stands next to every household.
The tremors affected Sastur,Gubal,Hasalgan,Nandurga,Haregaon,Javalga,Dapegaon,Rebe Chincholi,Rajegaon,Holi,Peth Sangvi and Kavatha villages. The road to Killari divides the old villages from the rehabilitated ones. Twenty years on,the rehabilitated villages buzz with activities,but gloom remains in the old ones.
At epicentre Killari,which became synonymous with earthquake,the old houses are buried under soil. Nilkanth Bhosale (45) has his farm adjacent to a graveyard. About a thousand bodies were burnt together, he said as he pointed at an open ground. The land once served as the backyard of a memorial of freedom fighters. The memorial,too broke due to the tremors. In the adjacent hospital complex,’Happy New Year 1993,a message dated January 1,1993,still reads on one of the walls of the general wards waiting area.
The Public Works Department (PWD),in the aftermath of the disaster,planted a tree each in the memory of the victims in this eerie hospital complex. The same,however,is now a jungle inhabited by snakes and monkeys. A museum created by the state government for Rs 50 lakh has now been made into a cattle shed.
While frequent quakes,though of low intensity,are a major cause of concern for most of the villagers,there are other,spiritual reasons to fear too they believe. Ram Bhalerao,who calls himself a local saint,blames the earthquake on paap (wrongdoings). Water around the Nilkantheshwar idol,the local deity,dries up as an indication of having reached the threshold of bad deeds. At present,there is water around the idol,so we are safe. But,you never know when it will dry up, Bhalerao said.
Tremors dont kill,kutcha houses do
Killari village continues to experience shocks,the latest being a quake measuring 2.4 on the Richter scale on May 22. S D Amle,assistant meteorologist at the Earthquake Research Centre,Latur,said,The region is an earthquake-prone zone. No one can predict if the devastating earthquake such as 1993 will occur again. Rescue organisations,NGOs,banks and political parties lined up immediately after the earthquake. Close to 16,000 people were injured,while an equal number of livestock was killed. The World Bank gave a credit of USD 221 million for rehabilitation. While some organisations continue to redevelop the place even today,the most recent ray of hope was the installation of educational seismographs by Hyderabad-based CSIR institute,National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI),about a year ago. We installed 85 educational seismographs in schools of five districts to create awareness among students. The project has been funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences and it is aimed at empowering the young generation by teaching them safety measures required to be taken at the time of calamities. This is an earthquake-prone area,but the frequency has reduced. We cannot predict earthquakes. But,quakes dont kill people,kutcha houses do. Homes need to be made safer, said Sri Nagesh,head of seismological observatory,NGRI.