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Compensation no balm for their burns
Geetanjali Gayatri and Sushil Manav
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh/Sirsa, April 4
Twentythree-year-old Suman is scarred for life. Each day comes as a grim reminder of December 23, 1995, the day when the Dabwali tragedy devoured men, women and children. Suman Kaushal, just nine years old then and one of the crowd, ended up with a face completely burnt and disfigured.

Thirteen years on and a graduation and a BEd degree later, she realises that no amount of compensation by the Justice TP Garg Commission will bring back life into her existence.

“My degrees and hard work mean nothing suddenly. Nobody has a job for me. I see disdain in everybody’s eyes for the way I look. Either that or I end up being a subject of ridicule. Life is a nightmare no less than the tragedy itself. I don’t know where I will go from here. I live each day at a time, don’t think of the future and don’t even know how long I can go on fighting,” she says, adding that a series of painful plastic surgery operations have done little to undo the damage of the fire.

While her applications for jobs as a teacher have invariably found their way into files which have been shelved, Suman, the daughter of a tractor driver employed with the Forest Department, is looking for a purpose in life.

“I have resigned myself to my fate. I am now willing to work free of cost if it can keep me occupied for eight to 10 hours a day. My mind occasionally strays to that fateful day when as a Hindi-medium school student, I went to watch my cousins, students of the English-medium DAV, perform,” she recalls.

That day turned her whole life around and the ebullient Suman “perished” in the fire. Today, she is down but not out; she has a few friends but is still “friendless”, she can’t look the world in the face and has resigned herself to a faceless existence.

“I rarely look into a mirror, I seldom go out. The glaring people unnerve me, they jeer and jibe. The money from the compensation cannot address my pain, it can’t revive my enthusiasm for life. I still try to keep my chin up and bury myself in books to escape the horrors that the tragedy has unfolded for me,” Suman recalls.

In a house in Sirsa’s Adarshnagar, 33-year-old Geeta, a daughter of a vegetable vendor, oscillates between hope and despair. While a change in season is enough to throw her into the throes of depression as the ghastly reminder of the tragic day comes haunting, she is learning to be a beautician where the feeling subsides with medication.

Her mother, Premlata, remarks, “Both her legs got burnt and had to be amputated. Using artificial limbs has been very tough for her. She has never been able to study again and the subsequent operations have left her weak. It was destined to be this way because she went to the function despite her ill-health to watch her friend dance.

No amount of compensation can buy these girls and many more victims of the Dabwali tragedy back their happiness. It can’t shut up blabbering mouths. It can’t even infuse a new life into their meaningless living. Life, for them, continues to be a tragedy graver than the one fire that forced them into a faceless existence.

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