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Home > India > News > Columnists > Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Sonu did not fall into the borewell

October 13, 2008

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Poor little Sonu!  He did not fall into an open borewell when playing, as is generally being made out by the news media, in Leharkapura village in Uttar Pradesh's [Images] Shamshabad district, near Agra [Images].

His fall was facilitated, yes, facilitated, by an uncaring society including, of course, the UP Jal Nigam which was digging the well. It is as if we just willed him to fall into it.

Please don't look at it as one of those one-off events on which the visual media feasts. Perhaps one has to realise that had the media not feasted on these incidents, no efforts may have ever been made to save them using everything at the disposal of the authorities. Yes, there is a positive side to this as well.

Look at it this way: suppose a person dies at work in a factory, who is held responsible under law? The owner of the factory, in this case the managing director of the company owning the factory.

The worker would have been trained, the minimum being safety even if unskilled, but the onus is on the MD.

Likewise, the onus here is on UP Jal Nigam and the society, including all residents of the Leharkapura along with the panchayat. Heads have to roll, maybe one for every hour the child has been in there  -- scared, scarred, not even knowing what has happened.

Simple precautions like a fence, a watchman who is alert, would have been adequate to avoid these so-called accidents which they are not. It would have been cheaper too, compared to the manpower and machinery deployed.

To say anything to the contrary, to say that the boy was playing and accidentally fell in when playing, would be to shift the onus on to the innocent boy. He was, after all, just two-and-a-half-year old innocent.

Of course, then there is the question. Were the parents stupid enough to let a child wander off and play near an open bore well that was 150 feet deep? Yes, Karan Singh and his family have a lot of explaining to do but that does not let off the panchayat and the Jal Nigam from their complicity by neglect. You can't let a child wander off like that, unattended.

This, however, is not the first time that we have had such cases. There was this case recently of Vandana, a girl of the same age, slipping into a well that needed a 26-hour rescue operation including the final move by the army.

Much before that, in July 2006, we had seen Prince spending two days in a borewell in Kurukshektra, Haryana.

 In July 2007, a six-year-old boy, Suraj, fell into a 180 ft deep borewell at Mudia Ramsar near Jaipur [Images].

I bet they were not the only children who paid a big price. Before the TV cameras found these by now routine incidents a big eye-ball catcher, several may have suffered worse. We just don't know.

Forty years ago in Hyderabad, my cousin, playing near his home, next to which was a construction site, fell into an open sump. He died of fright even before he hit the water. He was some four years old then.

Now, why do such events come to pass? Because, we are plain stupid and careless. For us, the anxiety, the rush and the prayers come after the incident and not before. Earlier in October I had listed here the ills that plague our society.

It is because we think a tragedy would not befall us and life would be as usual till it strikes.

Here are a few more examples of carelessness. Don't we all allow our children to play in the drive of the buildings we live in, the other residents just rolling in to park their cars without realising that their own children are at grave risk? This, in cities. You can imagine what it would be like in villages.

I have seen polythene bags being handled by infants because after unpacking the groceries, the parent has left it around. Toy-makers make items which have jagged edges and pointed protrusions which just invite the child to get injured.

How many toys have been pulled off the shelves in India because they have high lead content injurious to the child? Even after Americans recalled them and stopped buying from Chinese manufacturers, we Indians did not bat an eyelid. We find them in homes.

Don't we all have switches and plug points just two feet above the ground in homes where children too live and the infants, in their first bout of curiosity, poke anything, including their own fingers into the plug points? Parents keep a watch but how many even bother to at least tape them over?

Haven't we seen children dart across the road to pick up a tennis ball hit far too hard by a boy from a building's drive when playing cricket? That's also because we live in societies which do not provide for proper playgrounds.

Haven't we seen children running along recklessly chasing kites that float down after being cut from its string?

Or, packing school children, ten or more to an auto rickshaw, to be delivered in school and then brought back? Some of them precariously hang on to the sides, some poke their heads out of the window at the rear.

Just look around and we see potential disasters. We can't blame Sonu, Vandana and Prince for this. It is we who say we love children -- don't we produce them by the millions every year? -- are to blame, utterly lacking in safety consciousness.

TV cables and electric wires in towns and villages hang any which way, ready to snap and hurt a person but do we care?

We know wearing seat belts helps save lives in accidents but we ride cars without doing so. Using a mobile phone while driving can endanger our lives but we continue to do so, notwithstanding the fines by the traffic police. The police have to tell us to wear helmets and yet we don't.

At least a thousand people die every year, run over by suburban trains in Mumbai and its suburbs because people cross the tracks and not use the foot over-bridges at stations.

Would we change? I expect not. Because, sab chalega, kya karenge, koi sunta hi nahi.

But we should. Don't you think so?

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