REACTING to the tragic van fire near Gujrat town on Saturday, a local official said lives could have been saved if the driver of the vehicle had shown some courage. That statement provides the starting point of a probe to identify all those responsible for the heartbreaking, horrible tragedy. The killing of at least 15 young school-bound children and a teacher in the fire was no accident. This was nothing short of murder or at least manslaughter.
The guilty include money-minded transporters who justify the low safety standards they maintain by boastfully stressing on the affordability factor. Never is their greed more obscenely manifested than in the hot summer months. The routine sight of children crammed in rundown vehicles in the suffocating heat is the worst advertisement for our education system. It is a horrifying throwback to those dark times that we would like to pretend we have left far behind. Sadly, the same era of ignorance and negligence continues, frequently throwing up tragedies of this sort. Those responsible also include school administrations and the officials who run the affairs of government. Finally, cruel though it may sound considering the grief of those whose children have perished, parents too must bear part of the blame for not demanding a better deal for their offspring, for being the meek of the earth who accept their fate unquestioningly.
In a saner country, the Gujrat fire would be the only news worth pondering over for days and weeks if not months. In Pakistan, it is likely to be quickly overtaken by other, ‘more pressing’ events, as has happened in the aftermath of similar incidents in the past. Such incidents have included the killing of children in gas cylinder blasts, deaths of school-bound students at a railway crossing at one place and a bus overturning during a school excursion at another. After a period of initial mourning, these tragedies are forgotten in the interest of the continuation of the system. A similar pattern appears to be emerging now and the design could succeed once again unless a genuine effort is made to devise and enforce safety measures in transport used by our schoolchildren — and urgently. The blaming of one individual — the driver of the van — and the convenient, standard identification of short-circuiting as the cause of the fire are dire signs of the guilty seeking to take the old escape route. They are no less than murderers. If they are allowed to flee now, they will return to kill again.