Residents walk on the tracks as smoke billows out from coaches of the Rajya Rani Express on Monday. (AFP)
New Delhi, Aug. 19: Railway officials described the train tragedy at Dhamara Ghat as an “incident” and not an “accident”, seeking to blame the victims as solely responsible for inviting the fate they met.
The officials are of the opinion that the victims made an “illegal trespass” on the tracks to come in front of a speeding train. But given the political compulsions in a democracy, no official chose to come on record to blame the people for the “mass suicide” kind of incident and said an inquiry had been ordered into the tragedy. Officials said given the scale of the tragedy it appeared that the crowd tried to stop the speeding train.
Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge too termed the tragedy an “unfortunate incident” and sought to blame the victims for the tragedy but refrained from stating it in clear terms. On “humanitarian grounds” he announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the dead and Rs 1 lakh for the injured.
Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha, Kharge said two passenger trains were stopped at Dhamara Ghat station to give passage to the “super fast” train that ran over the people. He said people from the two stationary trains “got down on the non-platform side”, clearly hinting that the victims were at fault.
“Some passengers got down (from the two trains) on the non-platform side. In the meantime train number 12567 (the super-fast train) arrived,” Kharge told the House and added that the driver of the speeding train tried his best but could not save the people.
“The loco pilot after passing the home signal saw some persons on the tracks and applied the emergency brakes. However, by the time the train stopped some people got run over,” the minister told the Rajya Sabha, terming the incident “unfortunate”.
“It is not an accident but an incident. What is the fault of the railways if people don’t take care and come in front of a speeding train?” asked an angry railway officer at Rail Bhavan. He said that there was no “advisory” from the state administration to slow speed of the train in view of gathering of devotees.
Statistics compiled by the railways shows that in the past four years over 50,000 people have been killed on “railway tracks and level crossings because of trespassing”. Till June this year, over 8,000 lives had been lost due to trespassing.
Railway officials said in all these cases the deaths were due to the fault of the victims but in some cases they had to pay compensation owing to political compulsions, like today’s tragedy.
Officials said the railways are compelled to look guilty given the political and public outrage. Today’s incident too led to hectic politicking and demands for big compensation amounts.
Former railway minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad demanded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each of the dead. Lalu’s alliance partner, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan went ahead and demanded Rs 20 lakh. He also demanded chief minister Nitish Kumar’s resignation and alleged that the state government had failed to take precautionary measures despite being well aware that a big crowd was scheduled to gather.
The tragedy also appears rooted somewhere between the mistaken notion that a large headcount would be enough to stop a train hurtling at 80-kmph and the reality that Indian Railways cannot curb all jaywalking, psychologists said.
Clinical psychologists believe a phenomenon called groupthink that allows members of a group to engage in high-risk behaviour with little regard for its consequences may explain why dozens of men, women and their children put themselves in harm's way, walking along railway tracks.
“A group is perceived as stronger than its individual members,” said Jamuna Rajeswaran, an associate professor at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore. “The members of the group probably did not expect a train to come along, but are also likely to have collectively assumed that any train would allow them to pass.”
Scientists say many of those who were run over by the train at the Dhamara Ghat station this morning are also likely to have been influenced by a process called social learning in which individuals tend to follow the observed behaviour of others.
“When they saw others walking along the tracks without any immediate safety consequences, they would have felt safe too,” said Dherandra Kumar, a consultant clinical psychologist in New Delhi.
“And personal responsibility for collective behaviour goes down when individuals are members of a group,” Kumar said. “Safety is seen as the group’s responsibility than an individual's responsibility.”
Experts also say the lack of enforcement of rules related to jaywalking on railway tracks are also contributing to the choice made by possibly thousands of people across the country every day to ignore the risks of being run over by speeding trains. “When there is little enforcement, people will follow the norm — even if the norm violates the law,” Kumar said.
“When something wrong is very commonly practised, and there is no punishment at all, people convince themselves that it’s okay to do that,” Rajeswaran said.