Readers may be scratching their heads wondering why I present these figures. It is because till date there is no such data available for Sikkim as far as drowning deaths are concerned. This is an unfortunate oversight because on Monday, 27 July, a teenaged higher secondary school level student of a government school lost his life to drowning at Rey Khola. The incident is troubling because around a month ago, on 24 June, two young boys - one a student and the other a driver – also drowned at the very same spot within hours of each other. After that incident, the police had erected a warning placard at the spot but the warning remains unheeded and now another live has been pointlessly lost. A detailed news report about the 24 June incident at Rey Khola was published in the 27 June edition of this paper.
It is fact that swimming pools and riversides attract visitors during hot sunny summer days. The same thing happened on Monday, 27 July. It was an extremely hot day and Rey Khola, always popular on such days, attracted huge crowds, including students, several from schools and some from colleges as well. Most arrive there in their school uniforms, having bunked classes, as several of us have done in our time, for a fun day at the khola.
Here, I don’t want to get into details of what happened or why, but would like to highlight the seriousness of the situation as the casualties claimed by Rey Khola have already broken last year’s record and there are still a couple of months left until Rey Khola’s ferocity calms down to safer levels. Unfortunately, while everyone is concerned, no serious discussions or deliberations have been undertaken on how fatalities at Rey Khola can be curtailed.
In is paper, Dr. Gururaj had suggested a few key strategies to prevent drowning among children in India. Among them, limiting access to open water bodies; increased supervision of young children; teaching proper swimming skills from a young age; increasing public awareness; better disaster management mechanism; timely care; strengthening research etc. are listed, and everyone of them makes sense even as they remain ignored in Sikkim’s case.
Whether the above mentioned strategies will be applicable at Rey Khola or not, only deeper discussions will bear out, but if an effort is made, some strategic solutions can surely be worked out. The 27 June edition of this paper had clearly mentioned that better police-public relation is a must to prevent such mishaps. For instance, the number of students in Gangtok schools is so large that it will be impossible for teachers to keep proper vigil against truancy. After a certain age, even if parents are strict, if a child resolves to bunk classes, s/he will find a way to do so. Further, not every child who skips schools, takes a taxi down to Rey Khola.
What could however work as a short-term, effective solution is for an improved police-public collaboration to dissuade taxi drivers from ferrying school students to Rey Khola. Most kids, as mentioned, arrive there in their uniforms and almost all of them take a cab to reach there. If movie halls can be convinced to not allow children in uniform for shows during school hours and if liquor shops know it is illegal to sell alcohol to children in uniform, it should not be too difficult to convince taxi drivers to refuse students when they are obviously skipping school.
Some of the locals even suggested that the eddy which has taken three lives within a month at Rey Khola be destroyed. Though there are no guarantees that this will make Rey Khola any safer, it is worth a try in the absence of any other options on the table and especially because this very spot has now claimed three lives in a month.
Similarly, some suggested that if a huge hoarding with the photographs of the Rey Khola victims is put at the entry point after taking permission of the parents and guardians, it will serve as an apt warning. But it will also be a very morbid announcement to have.
These are but some options thrown about in casual conversations on the issue; if a more serious deliberation is undertaken, these could be further refined or more substantial options arrived at. This a huge problem already, but is unfortunately not every receiving minor interest…