India

Surviving the horror of the Bihar train accident

The train track in Dhamara Ghat
Image caption The railway tracks in Dhamara Ghat are a grim reminder of Monday's tragedy

Dhamara Ghat, a small village in the northern Indian state of Bihar, is where 28 people were killed after being hit by an express train while crossing the tracks on Monday. BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava visited the scene of the accident.

For more than four weeks every year, over the months of July and August, thousands of Hindu pilgrims flock to the remote village of Dhamara Ghat to visit a temple to the Hindu goddess Katyayini.

Monday was the last day of prayers at the temple.

Kusum Kumari, a 32-year-old mother of three, arrived here along with some neighbours to offer prayers in the morning.

Since her two-year-old son was asleep, Kusum thought it would be safer to alight from the passenger train and visit the temple after the crowds had thinned.

Image caption Kusum Kumari's life was saved because she waited for a few minutes to get off the train

And that decision saved her life. Minutes later, another express train coming from the opposite direction had run over dozens of people, mostly women and children.

"It was only a matter of a few minutes. While the express train crossed the other track, I could hear people wailing and crying. Emerging out of the train I saw only dead bodies strewn around," she told the BBC.

Survivors from the tragedy have frightening accounts of what happened.

Dharmesh Kumar, who lives in the nearby town of Mansi, was waiting on the railway platform to receive a few family members who were arriving to offer prayers.

"I have never seen so many dead bodies together. People were crying for help and no official or medical help arrived for at least three hours. All we could do was bring those who were alive on to the platform. Many died in front of our eyes," he says.

Apathy and neglect

Days after the incident, the railway tracks in Dhamara Ghat are a grim reminder of the tragedy.

Image caption Dharmesh Kumar said he had never seen so many bodies before

Milk cans, clothes and ornaments can still be seen lying on the tracks. There is a severed hand and the sandals of victims.

Eyewitnesses say that after the accident, some of the injured had to walk for up to three miles to get medical attention.

Villagers living around this tiny holy town are angry over the lack of attention from successive governments.

"Hundreds of thousands visit the shrine every year. Demands for upgrading the railway station have been ignored," says 71-year-old Pratap Rai.

He says fatal accidents occur on these tracks regularly - his younger brother was run over by a speeding train on the same railway tracks just a few months ago.

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Media captionThis woman remembers only running for her life, as Nitin Srivastava reports

But Monday's death toll has put the spotlight on the accusations that the region has been neglected by the authorities.

Bihar is one of India's poorest and most under-developed states.

A poor road network is the reason behind the popularity of local passenger trains in the region.

Basic safety measures, however, are missing at most of the small railway stations and platforms.

Unmanned railway crossings and a lack of basic communication facilities is a common feature.

Apart from the overcrowded passenger trains, boats are the only other mode of transportation.

As authorities promise to launch a "high-level inquiry" to understand the exact causes of the recent accident, questions remain over the safety of thousands of passengers commuting daily on these trains.

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