12/04/2016 8:54 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

How A Brave 80-Year-Old Woman Fought A Lonely Battle Against Kollam Temple's Fireworks Display

Sivaram V / Reuters
A couple stands next to a picture of a Hindu deity after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala, India, April 10, 2016. A huge fire swept through a temple in India's southern Kerala state early on Sunday (April 10), killing nearly 80 people and injuring over 200 gathered for a fireworks display to mark the start of the local Hindu new year. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Eighty-year-old Pankajakshi, who already has had an angioplasty and a bypass surgery, and whose house stood less than 50 metres from the outer boundary wall of the Puttingal Devi temple, had tried desperately for years to stop the pyrotechnics show and avert a major tragedy. No one from the temple management heeded her warnings and complaints.

In fact, she was threatened by locals of dire consequences if she continued her campaign. Her relatives were worried that the determined octogenarian will be harmed because of her complaints to authorities to put an end to the competitive fireworks display -- a major attraction in the area.

temple fireworks kollam

On Sunday, chunks of plaster from her ceiling came crashing down and her house suffered extensive damage even as 109 people were killed and 350 injured in one of the worst temple tragedies in Kerala. The competitive fireworks display went horribly wrong, as she had always feared it would one day, and led to death and devastation.

Some men came here and threatened us saying we will conduct the competitive fireworks display and if we are not allowed to do so, we will kill all of you and dump you in the river.

The Kambapura, or shed for storing explosives, is situated right next to her house and following the massive explosion, the concrete beam of the shed fell on the side wall of her house, reported Mathrubhumi.

Pankajakshi, her son Prakash and his wife Anitha, who stay in London, were saved from injury because they moved to an outhouse once the fireworks started, the report stated.

Pankajakshi had even lodged a complaint with the Collector on 2 April 2, the Mathrubhumi report said, and inquiries were held. Her complaint was considered for denying permission for the fireworks display.

temple fireworks kollam

But it led to threats and intimidation.

"Some men came here and threatened us saying we will conduct the competitive fireworks display and if we are not allowed to do so, we will kill all of you and dump you in the river," Pankajakshi told The News Minute.

Prakash told The News Minute that despite people getting injured, the fireworks continued.

Meanwhile, five absconding members of the managing committee of the Puttingal Devi temple surrendered early this morning.

Temple Trust President, Jayalal, Secretary, J Krishnankutty, Shivaprasad, Surendran Pillai and Ravindran Pillai informed police that they wanted to surrender and reached in front of a temple at Kappil near Paravoor and surrendered, police sources said.

The five were absconding soon after the temple tragedy.

Crime Branch, which has begun investigations has registered a case against six persons, including members of temple managing committee under Section 307 of the IPC (attempt to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under section 4 of Explosives Substances Act.

Besides, the members of the temple managing committee case was also registered against assistants of contractors who held the 'competitive' pyrotechnic display, despite a ban on it by the district administration. Gross violation of norms and use of banned chemicals led to the Puttingal tragedy, a top explosives official said yesterday.

The accident at the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex occurred during an unauthorised display of fireworks early on Sunday morning after a spark from a firecracker fell on the storehouse containing crackers, triggering explosions.

(With inputs from PTI)

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