| A family picture of Ashish with son Ayan
On Ashtami night eight years ago, 32-year-old Aparna Ghosh lost her husband during the firing of the ancient cannon before the Sarbamangala temple ' a 250-year-old tradition in Burdwan town.
At 11 pm on October 9, 1997, priest Anath Acharya had held the burning taper against the gunpowder stuffed at the back of the cannon as some 3,000 revellers watched. The cannon exploded, and Ashish Ghosh slumped to the ground along with about 100 others, hit by shrapnel.
Ashish, a homoeopath and a resident of Rajgram in Birbhum, died on the way to hospital. He had come to visit Aparna’s parents on the occasion of Durga Puja.
The shower of shrapnel also killed a 45-year-old woman, Durga Devi, who was resting at her home 500 feet away. That was the end of the tradition of firing the ancient cannon during the Durga Puja. But for Aparna and son Ayan, who was only two years then, their ordeal had just begun.
Eight years on, Aparna still can’t bear to spend Durga Puja in Burdwan town, where she now lives with her parents in Sankharitola locality. This year, too, she has left for her cousin’s home in Bolpur.
The bigger problem is money. Her father Ashoke Basu, who has retired from his Calcutta University job, gets a pension of Rs 4,500. Aparna and her 54-year-old mother, Alpana, are worried for the future of Ayan, a Class V student at Vidyarthi Bhavan Boys’ School.
Aparna had moved the high court in 1998 against the administration, demanding compensation and a job. Burdwan’s municipality chairman heads the Sarbamangala temple’s board of trustees and the district magistrate is a member, both by virtue of their office.
The high court asked the state pollution control board to probe the cannon blast.
“After we submitted our report, the court asked the administration to provide Aparna Ghosh with a job,” said pollution board law officer Biswajit Mukherjee, who was appointed special officer by the high court in the case.
On July 17, 1998, the high court asked the Burdwan municipality to give Aparna a job within three days. It didn’t and she again approached the court. The government lawyer pleaded that the municipality was not authorised to provide her a job; only the state government could do that.
Twice after that, on May 7 and August 27 in 1999, the high court passed orders (copies of which are with The Telegraph) directing the government to provide a job to Aparna immediately. The government has not responded.
A frustrated Aparna, as a last resort, has written to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for justice.
“The government turned a blind eye to the high court’s orders. I don’t have the money to move court again. I don’t know how I can pay for my son’s education,” she said.
The Burdwan municipality refused to comment. “The matter is very sensitive,” said civic vice-chairman Ainul Haque.
District magistrate Subrata Gupta, however, offered to appeal to the government. “The incident is very old and I don’t know much about it. But if Mrs Ghosh approaches me, I will put her case across to the government,” he said.