With other events making their way to headlines, the mounting cases of electrocution fatalities in India have largely been pushed to the everyday register of random death notes.
It seems that an electric shock killing people in public is too mundane to be seen as anything except someone running out of luck. Far too many unsuspecting Indians fail to win that battle against a loose wire, dangling or lurking somewhere in the street, or a high-power cable or overhead wire getting close enough.
In a country where an estimated 34 people die daily from electrocution, the last few weeks have been particularly harsh.
Close on the heels of 16 electrocution deaths after a transformer explosion earlier this month, Muharram processions last week saw four men electrocuted to death and 13 other injured while two died and 36 were left injured .
This was five men on Kanwar Yatra dying in Uttar Pradesh after coming in contact with an overhead high tension wire. This was similar to how six people lost their lives during Jagannath Yatra . There are too many examples to list out within a short span of time.
The bustling metropolitan cities see such casualties as regularly as other urban centres and rural areas.
Last month, for instance, Sakshi Ahuja, a 35-year old, headed for a family vacation, was electrocuted to after coming in contact with an exposed cable as she clutched an electric pole for support in a waterlogged spot. The same day, 17-year old Sohail was electrocuted to death .
Several exposed wires were found dangling from a pole near the puddle which the boy had stepped into. There are too many tales that different parts of the country have to tell each day, the banal death rattle running through an exposed wire here and there.
Keeping the figure for the injured aside, the numbers for the electrocution deaths in the country tell a story of their own. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, around one lakh people lost their lives because of electrocution in the last decade alone. The annual average of fatalities rose to 12, 500 from around 11,000 in 2021.
The daily average of around 34 deaths due to a random electric shock shows how its diffused banality hardly makes any ripple in how the news feed is consumed.
A shock that’s too abrupt, a death too random, but the danger close enough to lurk somewhere once you step out of the house in a maze of electric fittings running across the shared public space.
A range of such incidents, classified as “accidents’’, by the NCRB, usually sees multiple agencies, including civic bodies like the municipal corporation, public works department, electricity boards and even power distribution companies, pass the buck to each other.
In legal terms, these incidents see cases being registered under IPC sections 304A (causing death by negligence), 336 (endangering life and personal safety of others) and 287 (negligent conduct pertaining to machinery). However, the failure in fixing accountability is common, and the impunity is as regular as the next shock.
In the inquiries and the proceedings, the negligence almost gets the ring of an impersonal and inanimate act, like the electric poles themselves.
Being too mundane to cause political ripples or trigger power chatter and commentary, electrocution casualties are hardly stuff for high octane debates in news media or seen as worthy of weighty commentary.
Except local media outlets or the mainstream media houses spread out wide enough to gather news about such events, even basic information about such incidents escapes a large section of the new media ventures. Mostly in the national space, the mainstream media, particularly “newspapers of record” and their digital arms, and local news outlets, have been keeping a note of these everyday losses against the current of sudden end.
The mainstream news feed on such starkly high casualties, however, has rarely meant reflection on the scourge. It has generally escaped national media discourse.
In April, however, in the wake of a British tourist’s death due to electrocution in Himachal Pradesh, the country’s leading English daily The Times of India had an on the dangerously strung high-power cables and the sporadic and haphazard ways in which solutions are tried. Looking at the urban landscape, the newspaper remarked: “High-power cables strung close to houses, and poorly installed and maintained are one of India’s, especially urban areas’, worst nightmares.”
The sheer scale of deaths because of the sudden current coming from nowhere in India’s public space, and the numbers that officially state it, has been missing from Indian media’s commentary.
Even if most of the mainstream media has at least kept a note of it, and the new media has failed to even do so, the daily toll hasn’t found its way to becoming a talking point. Amid its focus on the high-voltage politics, the news media shouldn’t lose sight of the deadly wire that is actually close enough to kill thousands of Indians every year.
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