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When mourning never ends

Memories of borewell tragedy linger in Nadukattupatti

Nadukattupatti, the village in Manapparai block where a two-year-old boy fell in a borewell hole and died seems untouched by time. The fields are lush and rows of maize are ready for harvest. Amid the green lies a small area of grey- encased in concrete, where there used to be a borewell, into which two-year-old Sujith Wilson fell on October 25, 2019 and later died.

“My son has not left us. He is with me in spirit and I feel him here often. Since he died, I have rarely left the house as I do not want to leave him here alone,” said Kala Mary, Sujith’s mother. In between sobs, Ms. Mary said that the five days when they fought to save her son were the worst part of her life. “I do not wish it upon my worst enemies. My son yearned for me and I was not able to reach him.”

Sujith’s older brother Punith Roshan, who is now old enough to go to first standard, believes that his brother lives under the concrete, said Ms. Mary. “If anyone visits our home, he first takes them to the concrete spot and shows it to them. He did not ask us any questions about where his baby brother went. He has lost his playmate and now usually spends time on his own,” she wept.

Despite an 80-hour-long battle and at least 15 different equipment applied in an attempt to rescue the boy, he died and his body was removed from the well on October 29, 2019, around 2.30 am. The borewell in Nadukattupatti was too small, and the child’s head was only as big as the opening, said M. Manikandan, a Madurai-based teacher who invented a ‘borewell robot,’ which was also employed to rescue the boy. The apparatus has oxygen supply, light, a high-resolution camera and arms to hold and carry the child. “The rocks too were slippery. Every time we touched the child, he would slip further down. It was difficult to hold him in place and try and rescue him,” he said.

Vehicles passing by the narrow road in front of Sujith’s house slow down to take a look at the spot. “While some pray for him and for us, many see at it and remember our terrible ordeal,” Ms. Mary said.

Sujith’s family received money from friends, wellwishers and political parties, but not a rupee has been touched, said Britto Arockiyaraj, his father. “I earn ₹500 a day as construction worker. For now, that is enough for my family. The money will help my son in the future,” he said.

Changes in TNFRS
Since the incident last year, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services department has attempted to fabricate machines to handle borewell-related accidents. A team of advisers, including researchers from Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, and Mr. Manikandan were consulted and an order has been placed for 20 such machines. A special training programme was held for all TNFRS personnel across the State on initial handling of such situations, C. Sylendra Babu, Director, Fire And Rescue Services, said.

All fire stations have now delegated a technical station officer to keep a check on open borewells in the region, and to report it to the district administration immediately, he added.

First anniversary
The family has organised a prayer and a lunch in Sujith’s memory on October 29. “Anybody and everybody who prayed for our boy is invited. He is also the son of whoever prayed for him and in his honour, we would like to serve whoever wishes to come,” Ms. Mary said.