Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Killer on the Tracks

24th September 2010 :

Seven elephants, including babies, were knocked down and killed by a speeding train at Moraghat Tea Estate. We live on the estate, which my husband manages. All of India heard the news over television, and it spread over the world in no time.

At 4.30 a.m., our chowkidar (watchman) Madan told us that an elephant, a large tusker, had entered the bungalow compound about half an hour earlier. It had walked down the half-mile long road from the highway to the bungalow. It shook the large iron gates open. It walked all around the compound.
The two watchmen on duty ran and hid indoors.There was no damage barring a few huge footprints on the lawn. And a gate connecting our bungalow to the deputy manager's bungalow next door was knocked out of shape. That gate was made of iron rods! My husband's phone started ringing before six o'clock. He knew it must be something serious. The caller was Joy, the assistant manager who looks after the NG Division. His news was about elephants as well: the train accident had taken place in his division near the railway line. This news had spread all over the garden as soon as it happened (around midnight), and some workers informed Joy. He told them not to disturb the manager so late at night.

We went to the site, a distance of around one kilometre from the bungalow. Hundreds of people had gathered there. A baby elephant's carcass lay in the wide drain near the track. The mood was gloomy as it was lifted on to a lorry.

Crowds of people from the workers colonies rushed to the spot as soon as they heard about the accident. All but one of the elephants were alive at the time. We heard that they were crying in pain. A little calf was walking around in the broad drain, which was filled with water. As more people gathered, they started calling out to the elephants.

'Ganpati Bappa, Morya!' they shouted, asking the elephants to get up and walk again. People say the elephants would have survived if they had been rescued earlier, and that the forest department should not have waited till daybreak to begin removing them. The poor animals must have suffered terribly.

Elephants kill at least one person every year on this estate, and there isn't a living soul here who doesn't fear them. An elephant is perceived as an enemy. All this was forgotten that night when they lay there dying.

Moraghat Tea Estate falls on the elephant path between two stretches of forest. Every one is aware that elephants begin to move around the area in the evening. A herd had been creating havoc for the past ten nights in the tea area, pulling down shade tree branches, uprooting fencing posts and flattening plants. The wildlife squad in the region must have been aware of their presence here. Perhaps they could have alerted the railways.

It is really strange that the train's engine driver did not see the elephants on a full moon night. People say that he was drunk. Some say he reversed the train at top speed after hitting the first elephant, and that was how so many of them got hit. Everyone asks why the signalman at the level crossing nearby did not alert the engine driver or the stationmaster at the previous station. There was some talk about the 'symbolic arrest' of the train's engine at Alipurduar station.

Train services resumed within hours of the accident, and we now hear a loud whistle when a train goes past. Every time a train anywhere in North Bengal hits an elephant, the whistles begin to blow. Once the outcry dies down, these precautions are forgotten. Reports say 26 elephants have been killed by trains in North Bengal in the last seven years.

Ironically, one man from Moraghat Tea Estate died at the site of the accident that morning. Jaisingh, sometime worker, was a smoker of 'bhang' and was always in a hazy state of mind. A lorry hit and killed him on the spot.

Yesterday, another piece of news came to light. The elephant that walked into the bungalow had not nudged the gate open. That was the work of the chowkidar Dhiraj, who spotted him in the distance and opened the gate to get a good look!

We expect more visits from the herd.



Such a sad thing to have happened. And you right in the middle of it. Frightening.

Viji said...

I was having breakfast at Mani's this morning with a doctor friend after a long ethihcs committee meeting at the hospital and we were sharing a table with two other men. I was telling my friend about this horrific incident as we ate. When one of the men got up from the table he quielty remarked "Madam I could not help listening - truly Man is the greatest beast in this world !!"

Gauri Gharpure said...

The railway line passes right through the corridor and there have been many deaths before. But seven at a time really hurts.. Then again, sometimes I wonder how strange and sad it is that we associate tragedy with numbers.

manohar said...

whatever happened was sad,but you can't remember DOOARS without the Elephants,. we need to be more careful and specially train drivers,.as the history says .they'll take revenge.
But they are wonderful animals,how else do we expect them to survive.

Abraham Tharakan said...

I had read the news in the papers but had no idea that the incident took place in your estate. Thanks for giving us a detailed well-written account.

Walayar near Palghat in Kerala occasionally has instances of trains knocking down an elephant. But seven jumbos killed in one stroke is shocking.

Kamini said...

What a spine-chilling tale, Gowri. My heart goes out to those elephants.

fareed said...

Well written,as you read as arm chairtravelouge,but a sad incident!