The good samaritans of Balasore: an ode to humane instinct
Every humanitarian disaster comes with a pile of death and destruction. And more often than not, such human misery finds its own nameless heroes — those who throw themselves in danger to save others and provide assistance without caring for a semblance of recognition or reward. Odisha’s Balasore district is a shining example of the local community that rose to its feet to save hundreds in one of India’s most disastrous railway mishaps. When tragedy befell the nondescript railway station at Bahanaga, scores of men, women and children drawn from all strata of the society turned the first responders. Even before trained disaster rapid action force and firefighters arrived at the scene that could leave even the bravest of human beings shiver at the sight of brutality the mishap presented on the night of June 2, tribal inhabitants had rushed to pull out the fatally hurt, taken them home to provide first aid, food and even transport to nearest health facilities. A small chemist operating barely 100 metres from the crash site threw his shop open to help the injured. A teacher couple that lived nearby admitted passengers to the local high school and even turned the educational institution into a temporary morgue when the body count grew. As hundreds of villagers scouted for the injured and helped them out of the mangled coaches of Coromandel Express, young NCC cadets joined forces as rescue and relief operations picked up the pace. About 180 kilometres away at the district headquarters of Balasore, where the number of gravely injured grew by the hour, residents queued up throughout the night to donate blood so the hospital does not face any shortage.
It isn’t easy to measure such an extraordinary and spontaneous humanitarian response by the people of Balasore in the face of a catastrophic situation. But for them, the tragedy’s magnitude could have been beyond comprehension. As the true nature of the devastation unfolded a day later, compliments poured in. A befitting tribute to these faceless heroes came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who thanked the locals for their service. After a visit to the site, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said he was truly proud of the people of Balasore. For a state battered and bruised by natural disasters, the response Bahanaga tragedy received embodies the unmatched resilience of the communities that stand up to the crisis every time it knocks at their doors.