One instant Suman was there playing and in another, she had disappeared.
Keshav was perplexed. He looked around in the mango orchard. Then he heard her voice coming from deep below the earth, “Bhaiyya, bachao1 …”
He looked around. The voice was coming from the 3500mm diameter borewell. He peered down the 200-feet deep shaft. It was dark.
He heard the voice again, “Bhaiyya, I am down here, save me….”
Keshav was terrified. More than Suman’s well-being, he was scared to death at what his father and uncle will do to him.
Six-year-old Suman had no idea how deep she was stuck in the bore well. She was badly bruised. Her legs and arms were trapped in the constricting confines. She was already feeling numbness in her legs and arms.
There was mayhem in the house. Keshav’s father, Raghav was beating him and screaming, “What reply I will give to Damodar Bhaiya… what have you done, rascal…”
Keshav kept saying that he did nothing, Suman fell on her own.
The family members had rushed to the spot. But they remained rooted there, helpless. There was no way they knew of extricating the child.
A large crowd had gathered at home. The family members were crying inconsolably. Everyone was offering solutions.
Ganpat, the para-teacher, suggested that they approach the Collector. Some elders suggested contacting the city Fire Brigade. Ramesh, the village-vagabond, reminded them how the Army has helped rescue a boy once. Ganesh, the grocer, suggested they meet the TV channel-people.
The Collector’s office said they were busy with the arrangement for the PM’s visit. The SP’s office too, refused immediate assistance – the Police are busy with ‘Bandobast’2 duties for the political rally.
One of the village youth, Ganesh went to the News Channel OB Vans which were present in the city to cover the political rally. They were informed that the crew cannot digress from the assignment in hand.
Suman had started feeling the suffocation. She was thirsty as well. She had stopped crying and screaming now. The volume of air inside the borewell was about 580 cubic meters. The oxygen in the air was fast depleting and turning into carbon monoxide. Soon Suman was feeling drowsy.
The day had given way to evening. The family kept a silent vigil on the borewell. They could not hear any sound coming from the well.
In the evening the Sarpanch came and consoled Damodar, “Sometimes there is no happy choice, Damu, only one less grievous than the others.”
Next day, they placed a big piece of rock, covered the borewell opening, and left for home.
Once in a while on certain nights, a passerby would see a little girl in a white frock, playing on the rock covering the borewell. The uninitiated, who dare to go close, would run away screaming when they see the eyes on the smiling face shining like glowing embers.
Bachao – “Save me” in Hindi
2”Bandobast” – Duties related to Law and Order for an occasion.
3Para-teacher – Temporary and casual teacher in village school
4Sarpanch – A village-head
Rural India relies on groundwater to supplement irrigation. Large diameter borewells are often dug to draw underground water. Many of these borewells may not have sufficient water or go dry. These are abandoned and left uncovered. Young and small children often fall into these while playing. Only about 2% of children are rescued alive.