On June 20 this year, four-year-old Mahi fell into a bore well in Koh village in Manesar near Gurgaon. It was her birthday. She made front-page news in all leading newspapers and ate into prime time TV. Reports stated that help arrived 90 minutes later. Too late, they said. By the time she was pulled out 80 hours later, she was dead. Everything in India is late, except the media, the ever-waiting vulture waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting prey. Be it Mahi’s fall, Mamata’s tantrums or Mukherjee’s race to Rashtrapati Bhavan; 360 rooms were pushed into the newspapers’ back pages to make space for an eight-inch wide bore well and a child trapped in it.
The media did their bit in overdrive. Some said Mahi was four years old, some said she was five. Some said the bore well was 65 feet deep, 68 feet, 70 feet and 80 feet. Everyone forgot to check their facts. Presumably, they were going by hearsay, what the villagers were telling them. The one thing that they perhaps did get right was the bore well’s diameter: eight inches. That makes me wonder: can a child really “fall” into an eight-inch wide bore well? Or was Mahi actually trying to get into it out of sheer curiosity? Unfortunately, she cannot answer that question.
People on Facebook vented their sorrow and anger. Some posted links to be shared: the more shares, the better the chances of Mahi’s survival! Divine intervention from Mark Zuckerberg himself, I suppose! One posted that “if the army can’t save a child in a bore well, how can we expect them to save a nation of over a billion?” I have serious doubts that our armed forces have been formed for the sole purpose of digging out children who fall into bore wells, instead of defending our country. Joint rescue efforts by the district administration of Gurgaon, Gurgaon police, the army and the NSG went in vain. The last time we heard of the NSG was during the Mumbai attacks of 2008 when they were fighting impeccably trained and armed to the teeth Lashkar terrorists, who had certainly not fallen into bore wells. That was also a three-day operation, in which the NSG showed what they were trained to do.
After the army gave up citing low oxygen at 65 feet and life-threatening conditions, Soraab Khan, a local villager, stepped in. He dug his way through a wall of rock to where Mahi was. Her body showed signs of decomposition and injuries, said the post mortem report, implying that her fall had been a gradual slide to the bottom and that she had died within six hours of her fall.
The blame game had already begun, and a scapegoat was needed to fill in the missing link. Three days after she was pulled out lifeless, the Gurgaon police arrested Himmat Yadav, the owner of the bore well, and one of his aides. The Haryana government has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident. The media and the locals have already condemned the rescue efforts, terming them too slow and ineffective. Vikram Singh, sarpanch of Koh village, said the army and the NSG had arrived quickly.
A brigadier, who was overseeing the rescue operations, said that their efforts were slowed down by rocky terrain. They could not dig as fast as they wanted to, and could not blast their way through for fear of hurting their own personnel or Mahi. After the first army unit gave up in exhaustion, a fresh unit started to dig.
Thousands of people had gathered at the site from 11.30 pm when Mahi fell in. That hampered getting equipment to the site. Mahi’s mother Sonia says that her family was not allowed to be at the site during the operations and was virtually kept under house arrest and that they were not getting any updates on the rescue operations.
This was not the first incident. On February 26, 2004, a four-year-old girl had fallen into a deep bore well in the same area. She was rescued at the initiative of a police officer, Usman Ali. There have been many other incidents of children falling into bore wells in mofussil India in the past.
Six-year-old Prince was rescued from a 50-foot deep borewell in Haryana's Kurukshetra after two days of rescue operations back in 2006. Army personnel rescued two-year-old Sonu after he fell into a 15-feet-deep bore well in Agra. In 2009, a five-year-old boy fell into a 300-foot borewell In Jaipur. He was rescued. In another incident in neighbouring Dausa district, four-year-old Anju Gujjar was rescued from a 50-foot deep open bore well.
Some were not that lucky. Eleven-year-old Kirtan Pranami from Palanpur, Gujarat, died after he was trapped in a 100-foot bore well in 2009.Two-year-old Darawath Mahesh fell into a 35-foot bore well near Warangal and died after 24 hours. In 2007, Kinjal Man Singh Chauhan, 2, fell in an open bore well in Madeli village in Gujarat and died. The same year, an open bore well in Shiroor village near Pune claimed the life of a five-year-old. A four-year-old boy died after falling into a 200-foot deep bore well in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu in 2011. In 2007, two-year-old Amit died after falling into a 56-foot open bore well in a village near Katni in Madhya Pradesh.
As we all play the blame game and complain, someone has to protect and guide the children. In the eyes of many parents, there is no greater protector than God.
It is easy for the government and media to blame someone for digging a bore well that leads to a tragic death. But why are bore wells actually dug? In rural Haryana and Punjab, bore wells are widely used due to lack of water supply. Almost all government programmes seek to supply water through tube wells. With the falling water table, most of these tube wells are abandoned and are usually left uncapped and open. Not being able to supply water to villages is the failure of the government machinery itself. A 2008 survey sponsored by the ministry of water resources discovered that 85 percent of rural, 50 percent of urban drinking and industrial needs, and 55 percent of irrigation needs were met through bore wells. When the government itself is propagating bore wells, how can it blame others for digging bore wells? Incidents of bore well deaths will stop only when the government takes measures to ensure consistent water supply where needed.
Accidents related to children can and do happen anywhere; even inside homes, in schools, in playgrounds, in malls. And all these are so-called “safe places”. But does that absolve a parent of negligence. Would any parent leave their child alone knowing that an accident can happen? Children are not careless, they are carefree. Understandably, parents cannot keep an eye on their children at all times, but they can ensure certain safety procedures for their children. What were Mahi’s parents doing letting her play at 11.30 in the night in close proximity of a bore well that was known to be open?
Why isn’t anyone pointing a finger at Mahi’s parents? Are they not responsible for negligence? Why are the administration and the rescuers being blamed? Wasn’t anyone watching Mahi when she fell? Are we as a nation only concerned about our own children? Even if we see other children crossing the streets, or playing dangerously, or doing things they shouldn't be doing, we smirk to ourselves, “Ah, my child will never do that”, and we carry on with our false sense of pride in our parenting.
That apathy, perhaps, is the real cause of Mahi’s death.