“She had sent me pictures of handbags on WhatsApp and asked me to pick one. She was shopping for a gift for Valentine’s Day and told me I am her Valentine. She told me I should be the first one to call her on Valentine’s Day. I couldn’t even talk to her. I was calling since morning but she was dead by then,” wailed the mother of Karishma Bhosale (21) who was one of the two victims who died in a fire that broke out in Russia’s Smolensk State Medical Academy’s hostel dormitory.
The other victim is the girl’s roommate Pooja Kallur, who hails from Navi Mumbai.
There are four apartment type hostels in the varsity with 2,000 students. Bhosale shared a room with Kallur on the fourth floor of the six-storeyed Hostel no 2.
Clutching her daughter’s belongings to her chest, Snehal Bhosale spoke of her last conversation with her daughter. “She had learnt that the degrees were likely to be given on June 14 next year, the same day as her father’s birthday. She told me her friends envied her luck and she told them it was her birthday gift to her father,” Bhosale said.
Karishma was the elder daughter of the Bhosales and went to Smolensk in 2012 to study medicine and was currently in her fourth year of the course. A topper from Katariya High School in Mukund Nagar, she scored 92 per cent marks in her SSC exam. Karishma’s scores in CET for medical admission suffered when she contracted chicken pox in HSC. “She wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” said her brother Karan who studies in SP College.
Karishma’s father Uday Bhosale said that since she was adamant on doing medicine and Indian universities demanded Rs 50 to Rs 90 lakh for admissions which the family couldn’t afford, she found about the Russian university through a newspaper ad. “Their package was Rs 18 lakh. I mortgaged my house to pay for her education. Now, I will probably have to sell it,” said a distraught Bhosale, sitting in their 2-BHK residence in Laxmi Nagar near Parvati. He said he only learnt later that his daughter had planned a surprise visit in June for his 50th birthday.
Family demands answers
As they wait for Karishma’s body to arrive in India, the family members have a lot of unanswered questions. According to them, university officials have switched off their phones after a single phone call to inform them that their girl was dead, without offering any explanations. Parents say the Indian Embassy and authorities in the Ministry of External Affairs are their only hope now. So far, they only know that she died of suffocation after being locked in for 25 minutes.
“Her friends told us they realised two students were missing when they did a head count. My first question is: why wait till a head count and not check rooms in first place? Secondly, the fire broke out in the next room. A mattress apparently caught fire due to short circuit and the girls living there ran out and are safe. If the girls whose room caught fire ran out, couldn’t they have knocked on the door of their next door neighbours or someone else on the floor? In these four years, this hostel never once had a fire safety evacuation drill. If they did, students would have known what to do in such situations,” said Uday Bhosale, who runs a small business of solar panels and accessories.
Stating that all this information is being passed on through other Indian students since varsity officials have switched off their phones, Karishma’s aunt Jyoti Malusare said, “When the fire broke, why did not an alarm go off? Were there no water sprinklers or fire extinguishers in rooms or even on the floors? Where were there security guards who knocked on rooms asking other girls to evacuate as it was middle of the night and everyone was sleeping. If 198 students were rescued, we want to know why did she die,” she said.
‘Ban all admissions by university’
Bhosale has urged Indian authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and even ban the university from taking further Indian admissions. “The dean called me just once, at 2.59 pm on Sunday, to let me know that my daughter had died. After that, they haven’t contacted us. I demand a detailed inquiry. We also want that the Indian government should screen these foreign universities before they are allowed to promote themselves or take admissions of Indian students in all aspects, especially security. My daughter is gone, but no one should lose their child to this university’s carelessness,” said Bhosale.