A wedding ended with 24 funerals as a wall collapse, triggered by a sudden storm, crushed 24 people to death and injured about 30 others in Bharatpur on Wednesday night. Asha (28) and Dharmendra Singh (35) were getting married at Annapurna Marriage Hall at Sewar in Bharatpur. The ‘hall” is actually an open courtyard, where a tent was put up with support from the long brick wall. Witnesses said that around 9.15 pm, when the rain and hailstorm began, several guests rushed to the wall or took shelter under the tent. Both the wall and the tent collapsed.
Police confirmed on Thursday that the wall and the “decorations” (meaning the tent) were what proved fatal. The wall — almost 90 feet long and 12-13 feet height — “was structurally weak” and the tent, loaded with cloth and corrugated sheets of aluminum, “was weighed down by the rain and hail and, acting as a sail”, pulled the wall down. The police identified the owner of the marriage hall as Bharat Lal Sharma, who is absconding. SP Anil Tank said that Sharma had been booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He added that all marriage homes and gardens in Bharatpur would be surveyed to assess safety measures.
Officers added that Annapurna Marriage Hall had been operational for less than a year, but did not have “permission to do so”. Meanwhile, the Rajasthan government has ordered a probe on whether marriage halls are following laws. Stunned and grieving, Asha’s father Kirori Saini told The Indian Express, “This was to be the culmination of all our dreams. We had saved money and done all we could to make the wedding a success. Then this happened.”
The marriage had been in the works for a year. Dharmendra was known to Asha’s parents. When his family expressed interested, Kirori said they began saving for the wedding. A tobacco seller, Kirori paid Rs 41,000 to rent the marriage hall and an additional Rs 15,000 for decorations — primarily the tent. Around 650 guests were expected. Dharmendra, who owns a fruit and vegetable shop in Jaipur’s Johri Bazaar, said that when the storm came, some guests ran to the rooms one one side of the courtyard while others looked elsewhere for shelter. Fifteen minutes later, after the storm subsided, the extent of the tragedy became clear.
“There was debris, torn clothes. People were running, calling out for family members. The wall had fallen on the other side, where the caterers were working. We lost so many people from the family,” he said. “My daughter’s uncle and aunt had come with their two children. All four died immediately. They were eating. I had suggested that the kids have ice-cream,” Kirori said Frantic calls were made to the police, to hospital and friends. Rescue operations ensued. The wedding also took place, but it was hardly the wedding they had hoped for.
“We got married in a small room, lit by a lamp. It was just the priest and us. As if we were committing a crime. Is that how people get married?” Kirori said angrily. On Thursday, the debris was still being cleared. Underneath the tent, a slipper, a smashed phone and the odd plastic toy were found. “The rain and hail stones led people to seek shelter near the wall. The wall, we later realised, was not constructed properly. It was also supporting a tent that got weighed down in the rain. The wall collapsed, it was all over in a few minutes,” said Gaurav Kumar, a waiter who escaped with relatively minor injuries.