Every year, Muslims around the world celebrate the festival of sacrifice called Eid al-Adha. Incidentally, this festival is considered even holier than Eid ul-fitr. Marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, Eid al-adha, is celebrated to honour Ibrahim’s obedience to God’s command and his willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
As the story goes, it was Ishmael who impresses upon his father to heed God’s command and go ahead with the sacrifice. Many versions of this story are available, but the common theme is that Ibrahim did not eventually kill his son because God sent an angel just in time to replace Ishmael with a Dumba ram, a typical fat-tailed male sheep of that region. And so it is Dumba’s head which gets severed and Ishmael is saved.
At the end of the day, God is pleased with Ibrahim for passing the test, Ibrahim is greatly relieved that his son has survived and Ishmael, I am sure was thankful to be alive. Appears to be a win-win situation for everyone. And so on this holy day, sheep, goats and other such animals are sacrificed to God the world over by the Islamic community and later distributed amongst the poor and needy in the form of charity.
On hearing this fable from my friend Khan many decades back, I remember engaging him in an intellectual debate. My philosophical question was, “While I understand everyone’s compulsions and actions in this story, what was Dumba’s fault that he had to become the sacrificial protagonist and that too over the centuries?”
Frankly, Khan could not convince me satisfactorily beyond saying, “That is the way it was ordained and that is the way it is written”.
Actually I somehow got reminded of this story when I heard the terrible news last evening that the entire roof of a fully developed and occupied multi-storeyed apartment had collapsed in the not-too distant neighbourhood. Rather unbelievable but the damage had percolated from the sixth floor down to the first floor. In the process there have been several casualties and the exact number of dead/ trapped is still being determined.
Amongst the people who have died are two labourers who were reportedly undertaking the structural repair work that had been initiated after major building-quality inadequacies had been pointed out by the occupants. The rescue work is on and the standard statement has come out from the authorities, “We will investigate the matter and the guilty will not be spared.”
This is obviously not the first time that such horrifying accidents have occurred in the country. Apart from housing project accidents, we have even had under-construction pillars of metros and expressways collapsing. Such ghastly accidents terrify the nation and also undermine our faith in the quality of houses we live in, the bridges we drive over and the roads we tread over, day in and day out.
But more importantly it is the loss of life of the labourers who are working on these projects which bleeds our heart. Coming primarily from rural areas, in the absence of formal training, majority of these labourers are picking up their skills through “on the job training” from supervisors and mentors who are probably equally untrained. That is but the tip of the iceberg.
The bigger failure is actually at the regulatory level. Town-planning clearances are accorded without due diligence, building laws are unabashedly bypassed, designs are not vetted with a hawk eye, QA for material is done hurriedly, construction quality is compromised and ‘safety at site’ is violated without a thought.
I really wonder how thousands of such structures are standing or should I rather say ‘not falling’ in spite of rampant deviations from standard operating procedures at multiple levels. The latent issues are not visible to unsuspecting labourers who have been put on the construction job and later the users/ occupants who don’t know what they are sitting on.
The SuperTech building demolition case is just one such high-profile fiasco which has caught the public eye and the Supreme Court’s wrath. Otherwise, a prompt FIR against the builder and thereafter a long-drawn, slow-paced, lip-service enquiry will undoubtedly follow to identify the ‘whodunit’. The wheels within wheels will ensure that nothing substantive will ever be found and even if it is, one wonders whether it will lead to an implementable process or regulatory change.
Living in shanty labour camps, separated from family for extended durations, toiling way beyond working hours and quite occasionally putting their life at risk–these people form the real sad story behind our so-called “growth story”. Families of the labourers who are involved in these tragic accidents consider themselves extremely lucky if some insurance money or ex-gratia payment by a publicity-seeking politician comes their way to assuage temporary hue and cry. Otherwise, with the loss of one soul, the entire family dependent on the labourer, is forced into a life of gloom and doom.
Barring the odd unlucky guy who was on the wrong side of the probability curve, engineers are not held accountable for faulty design, regulators make themselves distant after conveniently looking the other way, contractors just disappear and efforts to deliver justice to the ‘murderers in disguise’ continue in vain in a world of well-paid lawyers and a snail-paced judicial system. Only profit matters while ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Liability’ are non-existent words in these people’s dictionary.
Somehow, we all seem to be rather insensitive, indifferent and pretty okay with this sad state of affairs. Safety as a culture is kind of missing from our thoughts as we don’t think twice before jumping through railway tracks and looking behind amusedly when the passing train just scrapes our backside. The cynical me asks whether it is because there are so many of us in this country?
Inquisitive and disturbed, I reach home to watch the TV footage of the accident. Very much like my Dumba poser to Khan, the labourer’s wife in mourning is hugging her progeny and crying aloud, “What was his fault?” And a nearby soothsayer muttering softly, “I guess that is the way it was ordained and that is the way it was written.”
With no angel in sight,
Postscript: Last heard, the search for the sacrificial “scape-goat” was still on!
First Published at seekmediation.com on 11/02/22
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