Another Mahabharata in Kurukshetra, “Prince” Rescued from Pataal!

. 7/25/06

The dramatic rescue in a Haryana village of Prince, a little boy, from a 60-foot-deep pit by a team led by men from the Army's Corps of Engineers is inspiring. But it also raises grave concerns, highlighting the need for a new culture of safety with a special focus on working women and unattended children. This is an imperative, especially in rural India where safe practices are often seen to be a luxury. Yet it is precisely in such areas that access to quick and efficient means of rescue is non-existent. Concern for public safety often ranks low in the list of priorities, and no specific responsibility is fixed for acts and situations that lead to accidents. Governments must ensure a minimum level of safety in every sphere. The system of torts should be strengthened to ensure that there will be a price to pay in matters involving public liability. There is also a need to create a standing mechanism with team members trained, equipped, and stationed to respond quickly to such emergencies anywhere in the country. This should be available to all people who, by right, may summon their services. In the latest instance, the `Sappers' of the Army rose to the occasion and deployed their skills with tremendous presence of mind. But it is not often that a specialist arm of the Army can be accessed in crisis situations of this kind. Against such a background, the problems faced by workers in the unorganised sector, which accounts for over 90 per cent of the country's workforce, cry out for attention. Workplace safety is still a distant dream for most of them. Whether it be the farm sector or the construction industry, there is no mechanism to help take care of their children while they are at work.

In contrast to the happy ending in Haryana, the watch for little Praful during a ten-and-a-half hour ordeal in April in Kerala's Kanhangad town turned out to be a wake. While playing with friends, that five-year-old fell into a borewell, down 300 feet. Efforts, based on improvised methods, mounted by the fire force and others to save him failed, and his body was pulled out after a harrowing struggle. There were two comparable incidents reported from Tamil Nadu over the past few years — one in Chennai, the other near Salem — in which young children lost their lives. The 1987 case of Jessica McClure who, at the age of 18 months, was trapped in a borewell in Texas for 58 hours before being rescued was the subject of the 1989 ABC TV film, Everybody's Baby. Coverage of the Jessica story led to some criticism of the media circus it involved — but in Prince's case, television news channels must be given credit for generating the India-wide public interest that formed the backdrop to the resourceful life-saving efforts.

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