That day, my grandma and 39 other people stood on top of the covered well, unaware of what lay underneath their feet. Their weight made the roof cave in, and they all fell to their deaths. At least 50 people attended prayer when the incident took place. About 15 of them were pulled out on ropes. Others died of their injuries or from suffocation.
INDORE, India — Every morning, before I go to work, I drop my grandmother off at the temple. At 84 years old, she never missed a day of prayer unless she felt too sick. One day, she insisted I go with her. I declined due to my busy schedule and left for work. A few hours later, I got a call saying she died. They found her body floating inside the temple’s 40-foot well. I felt a cold chill run up my spine as I tried to make sense of it.
Back in 1984, the government decided to cover the well at the temple because many people committed suicide by jumping into it. They closed it with stone slabs and rods without adding any support pillars. The top of the stepwell had no concrete reinforcements. That day, my grandma and 39 other people stood on top of the covered well, unaware of what lay underneath their feet. Their weight made the roof cave in, and they all fell to their deaths. At least 50 people attended prayer when the incident took place. About 15 of them were pulled out on ropes.
Others died of their injuries or from suffocation. Some of the survivors got stuck on iron pillars and needed to be rescued first. By the time they got my grandmother out, a huge crowd of people gathered. The entire scene felt horrifying to witness. A man stood next to me, weeping. He was one of the first survivors to be rescued. He described the incident in harrowing detail.
We all cried as we waited outside for the police to cordon off the area. Some people stood outside the temple, showing photographs of their relatives to others in the hopes they survived. We had no clear idea of how many people died at the time. Underwater cameras revealed grisly images of bodies floating in the muddy waters late that night. The images looked horrifying.
Part of it still felt like a strange dream. I experienced trouble breathing and sweated profusely. All I wanted was to see my grandmother again. Initially, when I heard what happened, I hoped my grandmother survived waited inside for me. When I saw the army personnel bring a body out, I recognized the silver anklet she wore. She told me growing up it was a gift from my grandfather, who had passed. Her body looked blue, with visible injuries on her arms. When I saw her body being carried into an ambulance, I felt shocked. I followed the ambulance thinking, “This cannot be real.”
My mind raced through all the memories of time I spent with her; times we traveled together to my uncle’s house, talking for hours on the train. I thought of our morning routine together, realizing suddenly everything came to a stop. I felt immense guilt. Would things have turned out differently if I had gone with her? They brought her body, along with the others, to a hospital morgue. The entire process took three hours. My life felt completely turned upside down.
After a while, they announced my name as I waited in the hospital lobby. The situation suddenly felt very real. While I sat waiting, I saw more people being brought in. Some of them were children that looked badly injured. Their faces appeared covered in scratches and their hands were twisted. I saw a lot of blood and tears and realized my pain remained incomparable to these little souls who would live with this trauma forever.
Upon reaching our home, I broke the news to my family. I could see their pain vividly, but felt helpless to do anything about it. The entire atmosphere in the house felt different afterwards, and it never returned to normal. I wanted to cry but felt so numb. I kept praying to myself, wishing I could have done something to save her. Today, I think the tragedy could have been averted had the Indore Municipal Corporation acted on the complaints filed by previous residents. People did even know the well existed in the temple.
So many people from different Hindu communities visit that temple every day, yet few heard of the covered-up well. If the authorities took the proper precautions, none of this would have happened. They neglected to properly secure the roof. They knew the amount of people who gathered to pray every single day. The government announced financial compensation of approximately $6,064 to each family member of those who died. Those injured received around $600 as compensation. It felt like a joke. Can any of this bring back the ones we lost? Can it help erase these images from our minds? No, it cannot.
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