‘Family destroyed in 1 day’: Victims’ kin recount horror

BHADOHI In a small corner of Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi district, Durga Puja has brought gloom and despair after three members of the same family perished in a blaze broke out during evening prayers on Sunday and 64 others were injured.

Jai Devi, 60, and her grandsons – eight-year-old Harshvardhan and 10-year-old Naveen Kumar – had accompanied 10 others in the family from Barigaon to Nathua, 600 metres away, on Sunday for the Durga Puja. But Devi and the two boys died after a fire ripped through the pandal around 9.30pm.

Devi’s husband Rampati Gautam, 71, reminisced how his household was known for its tightly knit family that the tragedy had torn apart. “People often asked how we all stay together… and my reply was always the same — it’s love, affection and care that binds us all, in good or bad times. I never imagined that my family would be destroyed in one day,” lamented Gautam.

Nine other members of the family are undergoing treatment at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Trauma Centre for critical injuries and one person with minor injuries was discharged on Sunday night.

Gautam said he was reluctant to send his family members to the pandal at Aurai crossing. “Everyone insisted that they be allowed to go as the pandal was set up after two years (due to the pandemic). Letting them go was the biggest mistake of my life,” he said. His wife, three daughters-in-law, four granddaughters and five grandsons went to the pandal. “It’s a black day for the village. I never thought that this pandal would become a cause of pain and trauma,” said Barigaon village chief Rakesh Giri.

The three deceased members of the family were cremated on the banks of the Ganga around 4pm on Monday. People of Barigaon said they were yet to come to terms with the shock.

“We were the first to rush to the spot and start rescue operations along with administration and police officials. The scene is still fresh in my mind…people were admiring the grand pandal that was given a cave-like look to give a realistic touch to the episode depicting Goddess Durga slaying demon Mahishasur,” said Vinay Prakash, an eyewitness to the incident.

“Everything was going smoothly till a spark triggered fire on the curtain near the exit of the pandal,” said Prakash.

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