The extreme decision of setting self and family ablaze by a family of four at the Tirunelveli Collectorate due to persistent harassment by usury over debt has created different responses and impacts among the common. It was extremely saddening to see those kids with their parents being burned alive, hearing to their howling and painful cry due to heat and bodily sufferings. The whole scenario was unbearably distressing.
One is enthused on Mondays going to office, with overflowing energy. With that same energy we reached the District Collectorate office by morning. Every week, there will be a public grievance redressal meeting for which there will be a gathering from neighboring areas aiming to share their problems with the Collector to take favorable steps. It is our routine to help the public, especially those who are from villages, to help them get relevant applications and also listen to their problems to gather news.
But we were not aware of the fact that the day, 23rd October 2017, would not be a usual day for any of us. By 9.30 am people started gathering in the premises. At that time there was an old man, Sivasubramanian, aged 77, entered the campus with a kerosene can. Suddenly he poured kerosene on himself. The police personnel in the campus at once caught hold of the old man and grabbed the can from him, saving him instantly.
On enquiry we learnt that the old man owned a plot of land and a house. He sold only the plot to a person for 1.5 lakhs. But without his knowledge the other person took away his house as well along with the documents of the plot. Having lost both his plot and house he lodged a complaint at the nearby police station. But there was no action taken to save his property and therefore he was vexed to have himself set ablaze. He was taken to the Collector by the police.
Police personnel from Nellai were sent as a security force at the MGR centenary celebration organized in Virudunagar district. So the police personnel were lesser than usual in numbers on that day at the Collectorate. The members of Highway Police Patrol were the only police available at the campus for security purpose and there were only a few police constables standing in support of them.
At this juncture, before the impact of the old man setting himself ablaze and having been saved is settling down, a group of villagers from Paraipatti village near Vasudevanallur gathered within the premises headed by a functionary of Puthiya Thamizhagam Party. They raised slogans to solve the water problem prevailing in their village. But there was not enough police personnel to control the crowd gathered. Hence the police constables present at the application counter rushed to the spot where the villagers gathered.
The whole media personnel were keen on documenting the happenings at the Collectorate. Suddenly people standing at the opposite side rushed towards the application counter. Not knowing what was happening there we too rushed towards the spot. We could see black smoke billowing up within a few steps of moving forward. Running ahead we were wrong to presume that there was fire opposite to the grievance redressal office, in one of the Collectorate offices. But we were blatantly shocked to witness an image of a person moving haphazardly with the whole body burning with fire.
Nearby there was a man sitting on the ground with his whole body being burnt. Besides, a lady was running hastily, shouting in agony. And there were two little girls scared and frightened in close proximity to her with their whole body burning. People nearby threw sand on them in order to douse the fire and everybody around them tried to save them with their little bit of effort.
Having witnessed the horrid scene of incident our journalist photographed a few shots hastily. Then he packed his camera and its supplements and reached the victims. He too helped to douse the fire on the lady and two girls, trying to save them from fire. Restlessly, Rajasekaran and Murugan, the photographers of Dhinakaran also tried to save the victims. Mr. I. Bopalsamy, Senior Reporter, Dhinakaran, was terrified to watch the incident.
As he was also making effort to douse the fire, he was disgustingly shouting “how on earth one can set ablaze these little girls? And he tried to remove the burning dressed on those girls in order to stop them being burnt. Immediately I tried to call 108 for ambulance services and the ringing got cut without any response for long. Utterly terrified, I stood helpless, not knowing what to do next. By the time, Akshaya Paranika, the one and half year old girl baby fell down facing the ground, unable to withstand the agony anymore.
Mathi Saranya, the five year old girl who was also suffering badly, unable to bear the cry of her mother rushed towards her to douse the fire on her, not being bothered about her own pain. But the mother was howling out of excruciating burns of her body and finally fell down. Seeing her mother dying the girl cried aloud and all those who were witnessing stood like statues .
I have witnessed many incidences of death in my 20 years of media profession and also encountered many incidences of accidents. But I have never come across such a ghastly incident in my life so far. The image of those girls crying in agony for life of their own and their parents’, burning alive with excruciating pain and their last moment of helplessness and sufferings, does not fade away that easily from my mind. I have documented the incident with an earnest prayer that such a kind of incident should never happen in future. Nevertheless, the saddening moment of suffering and agony still moves within me as a shadow of deadly darkness of helplessness.
(This article in Tamil written by Antony Raj in vikatan.com has been reproduced in English by V amalan Stanley)