The Gujrat bus tragedy: Children burnt to death in a country that just doesn’t care

Note: This article was first published in The Express Tribune Blogs on May 29, 2013

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17466/the-gujrat-bus-fire-burnt-children-in-a-country-that-just-doesnt-care/

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Glimpses of mothers wailing, the smoke from burning school bags and the funeral of at least 16 innocent angels still haunt me. They lost their precious lives when their school van caught fire – an indescribably agonising accident in Gujrat. The tragedy hasn’t left my mind since and my heart still weeps. 

We live in a country where bomb blasts and terrorist activities have made us collectively immune as a nation to the routinely-played episode of blood, terror and death. Every life is equally important, its loss, equally lamentable and its enemy equally reprehensible. But there is something immensely unsettling about watching dozens of little school children devoured in a ghastly fire, and yet having no one to blame. No closure to move on.

However, it brings some contentment to my soul as a concerned citizen to find a few news channels exhibiting newly-developed morals to discuss this heartbreaking accident. Channels are prioritising the Gujrat incident in those hours of the evening usually allocated to shameless, uncouth and unnecessary shows.

But is this much attention enough? Is it enough to paint a picture of the van driver as a criminal who intended this to happen? How can a sole person be responsible for something he wasn’t even aware of; the driver did not know the van would explode when he switched from gas to petrol.

Certainly, this accident is not an isolated event which points to the negligence of one driver. It highlights, yet again, the miserable state of affairs in a country operating without any proper enforcement of safety regulations.

A civilized country, for instance, takes prompt measures to ensure the security of its citizens above all other concerns. This might even mean launching fighter jets to escort aeroplanes perceived to have trouble onboard – these countries will do whatever it takes to ensure citizen safety. I envy their efficiency and often wonder if Pakistan will ever be able to reach even the most basic levels of such civilization.

The state is responsible when children are burnt alive. It is responsible for the helpless person who resorts to jumping out of a burning plaza in an attempt to avoid being burnt to death. 

Millions of lives lost because of negligence reflect the failure of the state’s machinery.

Instead of promising Rs 500,000 to every bereaved family each time they lose a loved one due to the state’s negligence, the powers that be should invest in building an effective crisis-management system to prevent such accidents in the first place.

How hard is it to stop wasting funds in pork-barrel gimmicks, mindless projects and extravagant campaigns, and to start putting money to good use?

How hard is it to prioritise and invest in the services that matter?

How hard is it to genuinely care?

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