October 29, 2019
Tuesday morning was like a second burial. Because the two-year-old had bid his goodbye to Kala Mary, his wailing mother many hours ago, his little body unable to bear the stress of fighting for his life, succumbing to claustrophobia, exhaustion and hunger. His “Mmm” was the last sound Mary heard when she told him “Don’t cry, please don’t cry. Amma will take you out, I am right here.”
Sujith’s father Britto Arockiaraj would give his right hand to rewind the clock. “If only” is a phrase that haunts him because if he had taken care to keep his borewell at his corn field covered, he would still be cradling Sujith in his arms. Instead, Sujith was now on his shoulder, for the very last time.
Smallest coffins are the heaviest. Because they tell the pallbearer, you had the responsibility to keep me safe. It couldn’t be more true in Sujith’s case. The might of the Tamil Nadu state and central agencies could not ensure India could take out Sujith out alive.
It is not as if the laws and guidelines aren’t in place to keep children like Sujith safe. Tamil Nadu too has an elaborate set of dos and donts in place to ensure borewells are not death traps. The problem is that we look at borewells only as a source of water for irrigation, drilling hundreds of holes into Mother Earth, keen to exploit every drop of water she can give. Once exploited, we do not give a care in the world to secure them, irrespective of whether they are in working condition or when they go dry and lie unused.
#SorrySujith is a hashtag trending on Twitter. Unfortunately that is the best India can say today. Not the best advertisement for a country that has taken huge strides in space technology, missile technology and what not.
As a state, we failed on three counts. One, we the people who are careless about not covering the borewells and taking adequate precautions as mandated by law, and then suffer as our children pay the price of our carelessness. Two, the state that does not consider monitoring the borewells a priority issue in rural areas.
Three, not having the mechanism by which incidents like these can be treated like a medical emergency, with standard operating procedures in place to ensure the first technically qualified responder takes the minimum time to reach to the victim. In most cases, Sujiths happen because the golden hour is lost.
Let Sujith be the last such death. Let Kala Mary and Britto Arockiaraj be the last parents to shed tears over a borewell tragedy.