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Elphinstone road stampede: Survivors’ tales still full of pain; fear of bridge remains

Twenty-three lives were lost on the foot overbridge on Elphinstone Road station on September 29, 2017. Tragedy struck during the morning rush hour when rain caught commuters unaware, causing a stampede. For those who lived to tell the tale, the wounds are yet to heal.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
September 27, 2018 3:50:34 am
Elphinstone road stampede: Survivors’ tales still full of pain; fear of bridge remains Jyotsna with her family in her house. (Express photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Her left shoulder still hurts, the dislocated shoulder bone visible beneath her neckline. It has been a year since Jyotsna Rafukiya (28), earlier a vegetable vendor, stopped working. She has never returned to Elphinstone Road, now Prabhadevi, railway station. “I have stopped using trains altogether,” she says, sitting cross-legged in her 50 sq ft home in Walkeshwar Banganga.

Jyotsna was among the 38 injured in the Elphinstone Road stampede on September 29, 2017, that killed 23 others. Following the stampede, the Railway Tribunal board awarded her a compensation of Rs 1 lakh, but the slum resident now requires a shoulder surgery that she has been postponing for months. Doctors have quoted Rs 70,000 for the surgery. “We don’t have that much money,” she says. The stampede injury left her jobless, her husband had to quit work for five months to look after her. Life has never returned to normalcy since.

After the stampede on the foot overbridge (FOB), built in 1972, railway authorities were jolted into action ordering the construction of 10 new FOBs on both Central and Western Railway of which three were built by the Indian Army. A whole year later, the injuries are still painful for those who survived the mishap and memories of that day, perhaps, more agonising. While some stare at unemployment following incapacitating injuries, others continue to nurse a fear of local trains and railway bridges.

On September 29 last year, Jyotsna had gone to Parel to buy flowers for Dusshera. “I used to sell vegetables door-to-door in a basket. During Dusshera, I used to sell flowers,” she said. It was after 9.30 am when she was carrying 13 kg of flowers as she crossed from Parel towards the Elphinstone Road foot overbridge. “I could see commotion and panic on the bridge. But the stampede began out of nowhere when I took the staircase. I held onto the side railing to avoid falling. But people fell on top of me. That is when my shoulder got crushed,” she says.

Jyotsna did not fall unconscious. She saw people suffocate, some she knew were dead, footwear was strewn around, as the pile of commuters grew over the staircase. “When it all got over, I took a taxi by myself and went straight home.” Her husband Kalpesh took her to St Elizabeth’s Hospital where her left shoulder was plastered. The couple spent the next five months at home. “I lost my job as a security guard to look after her,” Kalpesh says. The couple has two sons, aged five and two. The rent of their home is Rs 4,000. While Kalpesh recently started working as a security guard, Jyotsna could not do heavy lifting of vegetable baskets. “Now I do small household work in residential societies. The pain persists,” she says, adding that they decided to postpone the surgery to save the compensation money for their children’s education.

The stampede instilled a deep fear in her. “I can’t travel in trains anymore,” she murmurs.

Elphinstone road stampede: Survivors’ tales still full of pain; fear of bridge remains The Elphinstone road foot-overbridge. (File)

Like her, several others injured stopped using that FOB route to work. Jamaluddin Warsi (24) was going from Mankhurd to Dadar for work when he sustained injuries on his shoulder in the stampede. “I remember the pain in my chest, being breathless,” he says. Since then, he started taking a detour to work until the new bridge built by the Indian Army was completed in February. Warsi, who works as a helper lifting parcels, routinely experiences body pain. “Doctor gave me a spray, I use it everytime,” he says.

Uttar Pradesh native Prahlad Kanojia, who works in a garment factory in Dadar, was injured in the chest and legs. “I was suffocated, I didn’t believe I would survive,” he says. The 45-year-old was travelling from Sion where he lives alone. Following the stampede, his family came to know about his injury through news channels. “I never saw that bridge again. I started walking to work from Dadar station,” he says. A few months ago he looked for another job to iron clothes in Lower Parel. “I never want to go back to that bridge.”

The memory of the stampede left several scarred. Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of psychiatry department in KEM hospital, that began counselling the injured and families of victims, said two of the injured continued follow-up counselling sessions for weeks after the stampede. “Most said they will not use that bridge ever again,” she said, adding that counselling became easier since family and neighbours formed strong support for each injured patient. “We began the psycho-social support immediately, which helped the injured recover faster.”

HR executive Pramod Bajwe (54), a Dadar resident, was travelling to work in Andheri with his wife Pradnya, who was headed to Churchgate. “For 15 days we were at home. The chest pain persisted. But the feeling of not being able to breath made it worse,” he says.

The couple, however, take the same bridge to work even today. “We remember that incident every time we cross the bridge, but what to do? There is no alternative route,” he says. He and his wife each received Rs 50,000 in compensation from the railways.

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