It was utterly shocking to read of Friday’s tragedy in Bangalore when a young 25yr old woman lost her life during a mock fire drill. The incident was captured live on camera and was repeatedly flashed across news channels. Its the loss of a young life in the most callous of circumstances that shows the quality of our systems and practices. Most of you folks reading this blog are probably around the same age as this girl. Or may be you have brothers or sisters of the same age. Think about it. Feel for this girl…and her family.
The accident could not have been more freakish.
The fire police expected the employees of the building to use ropes and enact an escape in what would have been a real fire with blazing fumes. Unfortunately, the rope snapped and gave way, presenting a horrifying sight of the woman flying down to her grave.
Indian news channels and newspapers carried the news on Friday. On Saturday the news was reduced to a corner section with a headline that the chief of the fire police admitted there was a lapse and that there was no standard procedure for such drills. Today news channels are not even carrying the story. And local newspapers may forget about it at the end of tomorrow.
It can be argued that this was an accident.
But there are may questions being raised: Why were there no safety nets? Why were the employees asked to use ropes and climb down? How come no-one thought of the consequences of the rope snapping up? How was the rope being suspended? Why didnt the police have a training officer to help women with the task of climbing down considering that even many men cannot easily do it?
But all of these questions ultimately hinge on the one big question: Why is there no respect for human life in India?
Our country does not value human life. Our governments, our system, our administrations do not value human life. Yes we value our families, our friends and brethren. But it stops there. The death of a nameless face hardly moves us. Which is why we saw on television the administrator who had a ‘canned’ answer ready when reporters asked about compensation for the victim’s family – the company would take care of the compensation from their end. And government will provide compensation based on the investigation.
That was all there was to it.
What if this was the death of a celebrity.
How would we treat it? Yes, I agree that a celebrity would bring out a lot of emotion and coverage across the country and even have massive investigation agencies lined out. But does an ordinary citizen deserve any less?
This is not the first such instance where our nation has shown how much it values a life. And we all know it. But we dont remember because we often attribute these incidents to nameless faces that we dont relate to.
This is not the same when you look at countries such as USA or those in Europe.
Entire buildings are shut down if a single person was affected due to a freakish accident. Laws are changed to avoid such events from occuring again.The affected victims are fully represented in trial courts, and ordinary citizens are empowered to sue any power of authority: right from the railway station where the accident took place to the mayor of the city who is ultimately answerable. The leadership cringes in agony at the death of a fellow human. Authorities visit the families of the victim and personally share the grief of the family.
It is in these times that the true value of a human life is appreciated – because its not just about how we deal with the loss of our loved ones. That is always paramount. But sometimes, a society is characterized by how we react to the loss of the loved ones of others.
Its only so much that we can do in the aftermath of such an accident. No one can bring back the life of the nameless 25 yr old girl who has frozen in our minds as helplessly flying down to her death because of the incompetence of the fire personnel.
However, whether we really value human life or not will be seen in the context of how we respond to this tragedy.
There have to be some very clear action steps/changes in mindset that I think we as a society can take on:
1. Exhaustive investigation
The authorities must thoroughly investigate what went wrong and how this accident was caused. The findings must be well documented and made public. More than making it public, all relevant departments of the fire police as well as other agencies must be made aware of how and why this incident happened. The goal should be to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. We CANNOT allow for the odd thought that “sometimes these events happen”- NO.
2. Process! Process! Process!
We have to infuse in our work culture the absolute mandate to follow the process that is documented and is in place. We all have those bouts of complacency where we take short-cuts because of our gargantuan confidence that “nothing can go wrong today”. More often than not we get through with this. But on that one odd day when something can go wrong, it can be very very fatal. A lot of people get away with driving rashly on the road, or driving after drinking, or texting while they drive, or selling/buying adulterated food products, or smoking cigarettes knowing that is injurious to health. A lot of people play with their ethics by paying bribes to make their way ahead, or forging documents to forge ahead (pun intended). Yeah, mostly nothing happens. But sooner or later, the indiscipline or lack of ethics catches up – and when it does, it can be really really bad.
3. Contingency Plans
We need to bring upon a culture of factoring in contingency plans in our aspects of work. Its probably grossly exaggerating to label this as contingency: but surely, the planners of the mock drill should have had safety options and back up plans for any part of the drill that could have gone wrong. This is not just for the fire department, but for all of us. Think about your fields of work: You may be writing a computer program that could alter the lives of millions who claim their insurance from a company, or you could be designing the combustion engine of the next generation sports utility vehicle. Every step that we take must be fool proof. There is no greater joy in being able to impact the lives of people through our work. But we need to make sure that while we work towards the happy path, we are also ensuring that the consumers/customers/beneficiaries of our products have a way to redeem themselves should anything go wrong. Because the essence of life is that – things do go wrong.
At the core of all of this is the realisation we should lay a premium on the value of every single human life.
This is the least that, nameless faces like us, can do by way of a tribute to 25 yr old girl who died on Friday.
Thanks for reading
Note: The picture shown above is that of the tree of life. It was found on the internet. No copyright infringement is intended.
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