A squatter in the upscale Sector 17 Plaza of Chandigarh, Kajal, 23, has been selling artificial jewellery with her mother to enhance the beauty of others for years but had never even thought in her wildest dreams that she will have to hinge upon an artificial leg to walk the rest of the journey of her life. She was in Sector 17 on the fateful day of September 13, 2013, when suddenly, around 6 pm a storm lashed the city and a dried tree in front of the Blue Ice restaurant fell, crushing her right leg which later had to be amputated below the knee because of the gangrenous development.
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“The Municipal Corporation later planted another tree in the same spot in front of our eyes but none of the authorities cared for me. Is a tree more valuable than a poor person’s life?” questions Kajal, pointing toward the lush green growing tree. She now continues her business in front of the Empire Store, hardly a few feet away from the accident spot.
The Corporation had termed the falling of the dried tree because of the storm as an “act of God” and had been contending that it was not bound to pay any compensation. But three years after advocate Sandeep Verma came to help the poor victim, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s February 9 direction to pay an interim compensation of Rs. 3 lakh within a month has brought a ray of hope to Kajal’s life. The court noticed that it was on January 28, 2013, that authorities had recommended the removal of the “culprit tree” but then left it for the storm to uproot it on September 15, 2013, clearly indicating that there was a breach of obligation that had cost Kajal her leg.
For Kajal, a resident of Palsora Colony, life has been a challenge since childhood. She was just 8 years old when her father died due to liver cirrhosis because of heavy alcohol intake, leaving behind her mother and also her two younger siblings. After studying up to 5th standard, Kajal joined the list of school dropouts to support her family. In 2012, her paternal uncle threw them out of his house in Sector 38 to fend for themselves after which they have been putting up in a one-room rented accommodation in Palsora Colony. But the worst tragedy of her life hit her in September 2013 when her right leg was amputated just four months after her engagement to a boy, who is also a squatter in Sector 17. She is still unmarried.
Kajal says, “As the storm came, I was helping my would-be mother-in-law, also a squatter, to collect displayed items near the dried tree. Suddenly, the tree fell and one of its heavy branches completely crushed my right leg. I was lying wrecked and bleeding. My mother and other squatters tried to lift the heavy tree branch but before I was pulled out, the tree fell on my leg twice.” Her would-be mother-in-law also received fractures in her leg.
Kajal spent around 20 days in the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) recuperating and underwent three operations. Later she was fitted with an artificial leg at a Panchkula private hospital which needs replacement every 5-6 months costing around Rs. 5,000. The emotional and physical healing process has been very hard for Kajal. “Pitying murmurs started of whether the boy will now marry me. I tried to suppress it but again and again it would came back to bite me with depression,” she remembers. But the boy did not step back from supporting Kajal in her testing times and has promised to marry her once he is able to arrange a shanty, says Kajal.
Asked what they would do with the compensation money, Kajal’s mother Geeta, 45, replies, “The court order has surged renewed hope in us. I have to get Kajal married, return the loan taken from relatives for Kajal’s treatment and besides, my younger daughter Komal is also of marriageable age.”