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Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM (IST)

Blast pangs & birth of hope

Nikhila Pant Dhawan
An explosion at a political rally in Bathinda last year devastated many families which, in some cases, lost their only child. The birth of children in these families comes as a new hope, even though govt insensitivity persists
Nikhila Pant Dhawan in Bathinda

It has been more than a year — the deadly silence a bomb blast left in its wake continues to haunt a street at Maur Mandi in Bathinda. On the night of Jan 31 last year, a blast at the end of a political rally in a street in Ward Number 5 changed the lives of many people: four families lost their teenage sons. 

Seven people, including five children, died in the terror attack that came four days ahead of the elections to the state assembly.

Fate has a strange way of smiling back at you if you believe in life. Two of the victim families have been blessed with children again. The families don’t know if it’s time to celebrate.

Tragedies struck young Harpreet Kaur twice. First, when she was hardly 19, soon after her marriage with Army man Kala Singh. Kala (23) was from 13 Punjab Regiment. He succumbed to his gunshot wounds after his drunk colleague fired at him in 2004 at Ferozepur border. Seven months later, Harpreet gave birth to Ripandeep Singh. The family elders got her married off to her brother-in-law Kirtan Singh, also serving in the Army. 

“For 10 years, Ripandeep was our only child. Then another son was born. She was only a year-and-a-half-old when Ripandeep died in the bomb blast. That was very cruel,” says Harpreet, holding a month-old infant in her arms.

Harpreet and Kirtan were blessed with a baby boy on Feb 6 and decided to name him after Ripandeep. “He is as fair as his brother. God save him from the world of politics and hatred. My elder son died at the border and my grandson at a political rally. We have suffered too much. How can fate be so unkind,” says Surjit Kaur, Ripandeep’s grandmother.

At another house in the street, 40-day-old Ankita is opening her eyes to the world. Born on Jan 26 to Gian Chand and Ritu Bala, Ankita is now the only ray of hope for the family which lost its son in the blast. 

At the age of 45, it was a tough decision for Gian Chand to start a family all over again. “Ankush was 14 years old when he died. He was our only child. Suddenly, we found ourselves absolutely empty. Ankita has given us a reason to start all over,” he says. 

The son’s loss has drawn Ritu Bala inward, as she talks in monosyllables. “It’s a matter of spending time now. We don’t know whether to be happy or sad,” she says.

Japsimran Singh (14) and Sourav Singla (13) who also died in the blast have left behind sisters. 

Dr Balvir Singh, Japsimran’s grandfather: “After the blast, Ankush came running to my gate and cried for help. I poured water on him to douse the flames, knowing little that Japsimran had also suffered burns. My granddaughter Balreet was also with the boys but returned home a few minutes before the blast saying she was bored. Balreet is the only one we have now.”

Yashali is also now the pivot around which the Singla family revolves after it lost Sourav. “The boys were playing in the street. Just after the rally ended, they rushed to see the Congress candidate Harminder Singh Jassi. We heard the blast and rushed out to see that our children had been injured in the blast,” says Yashli’s father Rakesh Singla. 

Badly injured Jaskaran Singh (28) is at the mercy of his relatives and Maur residents for his treatment. Having suffered 60 per cent burns in the blast, Singh can’t walk for long. With his face and legs covered with a medical mask to keep them from swelling, Singh spends his time resting in his cot.

“I lost my parents at a young age. I was brought up by my uncle and aunt. I worked as a farm labourer but after the burns, I can't step out in the sun. I have a one-and-a half-year-old son and wife to look after. But I have no means to earn a livelihood.” 

AAP MLA from Maur Jagdev Singh Kamalu took the initiative and managed his medical examination at Delhi’s AIIMS. “The doctors told us that we would have to bring him to the hospital at least five times before his treatment begins. We are a family of small means and don’t have money to take him to Delhi in an AC vehicle,” says Jaskaran's aunt, Jasvir Kaur. Jaskaran was blessed with a son on Feb 7. 

A feeling that binds these families together is anger. “The state government, the district administration and the police are dragging their feet on the case. The blast occurred at the end of the Congress rally, but the party leaders forgot the victims’ families. The blast was forgotten as soon as the elections were over,” said Gian Chand. 

The Maur Bomb Blast Sangharsh Committee has been working relentlessly to get justice for the victims. The government had announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh and a government job to a member of the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured. While the compensation was released, the jobs are yet to come.

Says Gurmail Singh, a committee member: “The deputy commissioner had publicly announced the compensation and jobs. Now he says the files are under process, and it’s been a year.”

Deputy commissioner Diprava Lakra says only one person — the daughter of blast victim Harpal Sigh Pali, an aide of Congress candidate Jassi — has so far been given a job. “The files of others are pending with the government for approval,” said Lakra. Therein lies yet another story of government insensitivity.

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