Back from his annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala, Vivek Oberoi is heartbroken about the horrific tragedy that took place on Friday night at the Hindu pilgrimage centre.
Vivek, who has been a regular at Sabarimala for the last 12 years, says, “There is a minor accident every year. A few years ago, there was a landslide. But this is the worst incident I have seen.”
The actor feels that the number of casualties could be more than the reported number. The actor and seven of his friends, including actor Jackky Bhagnani and Bollywood trainer Satyen, offered their assistance to the Kerala police after the tragedy. “I’m the leader of the group I bring from Mumbai and we wanted to help. But the police said the whole place was so badly jammed that people were getting hysterical and even trained rescuers were not able to reach on time,” recounts Vivek, adding, “It was heartbreaking as we were right in the middle of things. The government desperately needs to do something about the infrastructure of the place. Sabarimala should not be viewed from the perspective of a religious pilgrimage, alone. It’s the most amazing example of unity and harmony as thousands of Christians and Muslims go on the pilgrimage.”
This year, an estimated two lakh devotees visited the religious centre. Could the major swell in the number of devotees have been responsible for the disaster? “Every year, there’s a 15-20 per cent increase in the pilgrims. The 18 sacred steps can accommodate a maximum of 5,000 people an hour, which is 80,000 people for the 16 hours a day the centre is open for. Hence, it’s crucial that the infrastructure is sound. I want to do something about it since the fraternity of devotees has a lot of respect for me. In fact, two more trips and I will become a guru swamy there,” explains Vivek.
The actor, who has visited Vaishnodevi and Tirupathi as well, says these pilgrimages are much better organised than Sabarimala. “There, they divide devotees into batches. In Vaishnodevi, the journey is arduous, but it’s made a lot easier. But in Sabarimala, the flow is completely random,” sighs Vivek.
Does he have more security being a celebrity? “No. You have to walk with the thousands of other devotees. I usually cover my face and walk. The Kerala police has been really kind to me and they give me an escort too. Now I have a place to stay as I know someone who owns a trust and has built these guest houses. But during the first four years, I didn’t have a place to stay. I slept on the floor,” shares Vivek.
He’s aware of the government’s announcement of compensation of ` 5 lakh for the deceased. “That’s the standard procedure. It’s a short-term solution as money is important to survive and sustain the family. But the long-term solution is providing better infrastructure. It’s a pilgrimage of international repute. Such incidents will make it lose its essence. You can’t let devotees suffer like this,” he says.
Vivek will return to Sabarimala next year despite the incident as “it’s a personal spiritual journey for me”. As of now, after running the Mumbai Marathon to raise funds for blood cancer, he might visit Bangalore to support his sister’s art exhibition.
Source : Times of India