'Fire brigade reached after 30 mins, police even later'
Survivors of the fire at an east Delhi community hall during a transgender congregation, which left 14 people dead, recall the horror.
What would have been a joyous eight-day festival of prayers and meeting near and dear ones turned out to be a nightmare for the transgender community when a fire broke out at an east Delhi community hall on Sunday evening claiming 14 lives and injuring 40 others.
Around 5,000 eunuchs from across the country poured in for the congregation at the local community centre in the congested Nandnagari, which was covered by a marquee.
However, around 6.50 pm, a fire broke out because of the short circuit, which soon became uncontrollable. It led to a cylinder blast causing more panic. Those gathered for the congregation started rushing to one and only exit of the tent -- a stampede ensued and those inside the community centre were among the first casualties. The entire place was reduced to ashes within 10 minutes.
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Image: Policemen stand at the gate of a community centre, the site of Sunday's fire which broke out during a congregation of eunuchs, in New Delhi
'Three cylinders exploded, it was all over within minutes'
Monday morning saw survivors thronging to the close by Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital where the injured were admitted in a rush the previous evening. "We were all inside the community centre, meeting friends, when the fire started engulfing the place.
Three gas cylinders also exploded and within minutes, it was all over," said Chandini, a survivor. "The fire brigade reached after half an hour or so. And the police reached much later," she added.
Dr Varun Kulshreahtha, head of department, burns and plastic surgery, GTB Hospital said that 50 causalities were brought to the hospital. Twelve were brought in dead, five were admitted to other hospitals and 33 patients who have suffered 30 to 55 per cent burns are undergoing treatment, he said.
The patients are being treated at the burns ward, located on the first floor of the GTB Hospital. Many have suffered severe burns on their chest, arms and legs. Dr Kulshreahtha explained, "Anyone who has suffered 30 per cent or less burns has a fair chance of survival. There are about two patients who have suffered 50 to 55 per cent burns and six with 40 per cent burns. I see all of them as serious. One patient in particular, Sonia, has about 85 per cent burns on the body and has a very grim chance of survival," he observed.
Image: People at the site of the fire that broke out during a congregation of eunuchs at a community center in New Delhi
'Victims of Sikh riots haven't got justice, what's our chance?'
Outside the hospital, eunuchs gathered in groups waiting for news of their near and dear ones being treated in the hospital. Occasionally, when someone got out of the building, others reached out to them asking impatiently about the progress of the victims.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit visited the hospital on Monday and announced a relief package of Rs 2 lakh for the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those injured. However, the transgender community was upset.
Sonia, the head of their community in Gujarat and a former MLA from Shahpur in Ahmedabad constituency was aghast. She headed group of 50 eunuchs to the gathering, of which two are now dead. "The amount is nothing. We have lost everything. Each one of was wearing at least 2-3 tola gold, and it is all gone," she lamented.
"Who will get us justice? We have seen the police personnel taking away our gold and money, but we can't say anything. When the victims of Sikh riots have still not got justice, where is the chance for us," she said.
Image: A eunuch speaks on a mobile phone at the site of Sunday's fire
'We did not seek permission from the fire department'
On being asked if they had taken prior permission for the gathering another eunuch Kangana said, "Yes, it is true, we didn't seek permission from the fire department. But what about our loss, our dear ones whom we have lost forever, our money and our gold?"
Meanwhile, the local police authorities have registered a case against the organisers of the congregation because they the police claim they did not seek permission from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi or the fire department.
Image: Relatives wait outside a hospital mortuary to collect the body of their relative, who died after a fire broke out during a congregation of eunuchs at a community centre