To go missing at Kumbh Mela is an age-old colloquial motif. As much as we love to brush it off as a joke, the bare truth behind it is alarming.
If you haven’t been to Kumbh Mela yet, to witness its sheer vastness and magnificence, you have at least come across reports on how people get lost in huge numbers at the event. In 2013, approximately 2.75 lakh people were reported missing at the Maha Kumbh Mela.
Deemed one of the largest congregations of religious pilgrims and recognised by UNESCO, the 2019 Kumbh Mela, stretching across 3,200 hectares, is being held at Prayagraj till March 4. The mela witnesses a confluence of cultures, which is a good way of exposing your children to the diversity of our country.
Kumbh Mela 2019
An estimated 1.36 crore people have already taken a dip in the holy river at Ardh Kumbh Mela this time, with a total of 12 crore people expected to attend the event. Getting lost amid such a massive gathering is not unlikely, which only raises fear and concern about getting separated from one’s travel companions, more so in the case of children, who are completely dependent on the parents or elders in the family.
Missing children at Kumbh Mela
“Of the people who went missing in the 2013 Kumbh Mela, a majority were women and children. Many of the missing children are trafficked, reports of which we often hear about,” said Bidhan Chandra Singh, executive director, Kalyan Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi. The foundation is among a number of other agencies that have mobilised volunteers at Kumbh Mela this year, in an effort to create what they call a “Bal Mitra” or child-friendly Kumbh.
KSCF has also rolled out the Mukti Caravan, a campaign on wheels that will go around the mela to spread awareness about children’s safety. “Kumbh is the place where we want to support the government in their efforts in ensuring the safety of children and women. We are trying to make sure that this time, people do not go missing at the Kumbh or at least minimise the risks as much as we can. Our efforts are directed towards establishing certain benchmarks for a child-friendly mela,” Singh told Express Parenting.
How to ensure your child’s safety at Kumbh Mela
While organisations are there to provide assistance, it is essential on the part of the parents too, to ensure their child remains safe.
So, in case you are taking your child to Kumbh Mela, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Before taking your child to Kumbh Mela, make sure he or she is vaccinated against common communicable diseases, suggested Vinod Kumar, who visited the mela with his daughter and son, then nine and 15 respectively, in 2013.
2. Once at Kumbh Mela, parents should never leave their child alone.
3. Needless to mention, the entire place will be dusty, so a hand disinfectant and a mask would keep your child away from diseases, Kumar said.
4. Apprise children of your contact numbers, show him or her the stalls where they can report to if lost. Also, children should carry a piece of their identity on them, with details like the name of parents, phone number and home address, suggested a spokesperson of KSCF.
5. “We made our children wear bright coloured clothes, so it was easy for us spot each other. UP Tourism tents are the nearest to mela and best place to stay,” added Kumar.
6. Children should keep some medical supplies like band-aids handy, in case of minor injuries.
Lost and found centres have been set up at Kumbh Mela this time. One can also call at the toll-free helpline number 1920, for any support. Besides, the police are reportedly using nearly 40,000 radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for children below the age of 14, to trace them if lost. Arrangements have been made to display real time information through LED boards.
Singhs stressed that just in case a child goes missing, parents should not panic. “Parents need to be aware of the lost and found centres at the mela, along with the helpline number for the same. Don’t panic; look for help nearby. There are a number of organisations like our foundation, Bharat Seva Dal, Bahuguna Foundation, along with the police, to help you out. So, reach out to them,” he said.