A man sat on a hill crying as the police tried trace what remained of the body of his nephew, 35-year-old Gangadhar Babu, an MBA graduate from Gorantla in the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh. He worked as the manager of the quarry at Hirenagavalli and was one of the six men killed in the explosion that took place in the early hours of Tuesday.
The scene of the explosion — atop a small hillock in a forested area — had charred remains of the victims strewn within a 1 km radius. The families of the deceased at the site were horrified — many cried inconsolably, while some were shocked into silence. The police had a difficult time combing the site.
“My nephew had worked here for eight years, away from his family. Our lives matter so little. If we had jobs back home, why would he have come to make a living amidst these hills and in danger? If he had not studied, he might have been tending to cows, but he would have been alive,” said Chandrashekhar, weeping as we watched the police undertake the grim task.
Anjamma, mother of Ramu, 27, who worked as a computer operator and who was also killed in the explosion, had a tough time coming to terms with the tragedy. His family had cut off all relations with him after he married his classmate, a Dalit girl. The couple lived in Hirenagavalli, the woman’s village, and had a four-year-old son while as Ramu worked at the quarry. “The TV flashed his photo as one of those killed and I came here. The last time he spoke to me was in January last year, when he boasted that he had settled well in life. I have come only to see him dead now,” she said.
His wife and in-laws camping nearby were inconsolable. “The six of them not only worked together, but were also great friends and always hung out together. Now all of them died together as well,” his father-in-law Venkataramanappa said. Mr. Ramu’s son was playing with other children, unaware of what he had lost.
One of the youngest of the six deceased was Abhilash Nayak, all of 23 years of age. He had a baby just two months ago. “His wife and child are still at her parent’s house and now he is gone,” his uncle Narasimhappa said, before breaking down.
As the sun started to set, villagers were still processing the tragedy. Even households more than a kilometre away had felt the tremors. “I thought the roof of my house would fall on me and I ran out,” said Venkataramanappa, a farmer. Venugopal Reddy, a geologist by training and a resident of the village, assumed it was an earthquake and also ran out of his house.
B.N. Bache Gowda, MP from Chickballapur, visited the spot on Tuesday and said he would speak to the Chief Minister to ensure the families of the victims were given compensation as well as a government job to a family member on grounds of compassion, wherever possible.