MOST victims of Friday’s train accident at Jora Phaatak in Amritsar lived, or live, in colonies near the tracks. Longtime residents of the area, they were watching Ravan Dahan being held near the tracks, knowing that it wasn’t safe. However, nothing untoward had happened earlier, they said.
Most people in the affected families were small-time laborers, wood polish workers, sanitary workers, gardeners, painters, etc — most of them migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, settled in Punjab for decades.
Eyewitnesses told The Sunday Express that every year they would stand on railway tracks and watch the firecrackers.
His shirt soaked in blood and his face sapped of all emotions by then, Rakesh (35) sat at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar, waiting for bodies of his brother Dinesh (32) and nephew Abhishek (9).
Rakesh and his friend Rahul, both working as sanitary workers, said they were out with their families to watch the Dussehra fair. “Initially we thought four or five people must have been injured, but as chaos grew and we reached the tracks, there were hundreds of bodies,” Rahul said. “Then we realised that our family members were missing. Dinesh and his son’s body was found. His wife Preeti is under treatment but his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her children are still missing.”
“We have visited all hospitals but found no clue,” he said.
Like other local residents, Rahul said, he used to attend the fair every year, standing on the railway tracks to watch the effigy of Ravan go up in flames. “Why should we lie? We know it is unsafe to stand here but earlier whenever a train approached there was some alert or a loud horn. Then we used to move aside,” he said.
“On Friday, there was not a single horn or any alert sounded. The train just came like a bullet and mowed down people,” he added.
Poonam, another eyewitness, also said, “We have attended this mela earlier also and trains always used to come at a slow pace. An alert was always sounded and people used to move aside. There was no siren on Friday.”