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Karnataka Temple Tragedy Haunts the Families of Deceased

Fourteen people have died so far and 91 have been hospitalised in Karnataka’s temple tragedy.

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India
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Harsh winds blew across the expanse of Sulwadi village. It was one of those days where a gloom so strong had filled the village that the sadness seeped into one’s bones. An old man sat outside his house near the Kicchu Maramma Temple, the memories of the dreadful Friday reeling in his mind as he chewed on his betel leaf.

“People were falling on the ground, clutching their stomachs. Children were crying. I saw a mother snatching the plate of prasadam from her child and hurling it away. She collapsed a few minutes later,” says Puttappa, recalling the horrifying day.

On the afternoon of 14 December , devotees of the Kicchu Maramma Temple in Chamarajanagar’s Sulwadi village fell ill and were hospitalised after consuming the prasadam laced with poison.
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Fourteen people have died so far, 91 have been hospitalised and are currently undergoing treatment.

Residents of Sulwadi mourned for their loved ones. Several homes were locked as people had gone away to hospitals to wait for their ailing family members.

A small house sits on the way up the village where Shantha (30) is seen crying out for her family. “My daughter is dead. She was just 12 years old,” Shantha wails.

On 14 December , 12-year-old Anitha woke up at 6 am, excited to attend the ceremony at the temple. Anitha had saved a red-coloured salwaar kameez, which her father had bought on Deepavali, for the special day. The gopuram at the Kicchu Maaramma temple was being inaugurated and Anitha wanted to look her best.

“She fought with her father and bought a new pair of slippers too. They matched her clothes. She wore jasmine flowers and ran out of the house. She stopped, came back and instructed her younger sisters to go to the anganwadi and then went to the temple,” Anitha’s mother Shantha says.

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Anitha rushed to the temple, excited to partake in the festivities. Her father Puttaswamy, who worked as a night watchman, had gone to the temple to help with the arrangements.

“At around 1 pm that day (14 December ), news of the poisoning spread. I ran to the temple to look for my husband and daughter. At the back of the temple, I found my husband carrying my daughter. She was unconscious. They put her into an ambulance and a few seconds later my husband collapsed too.”
Shantha, Anitha’s mother

They were taken to the Holy Cross Hospital in Kamagere, where Anitha breathed her last. Her father, Puttaswamy, who is recovering, breaks into tears at the mention of Anitha’s name.

“I gave her the plate of prasadam. I should have eaten it first. I fed her the rice with my own hand. I killed my own daughter. I should have been dead, not her,” Puttaswamy says with a plaintive cry.
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The ailing devotees have been transferred to various hospitals in Mysuru and Chamarajanagar. At KR Hospital in Mysuru, family members of the ailing are seen sitting with sombre expressions. Nervous frowns etched on their brows, their pals huddled tight, eyes closed, saying prayers for their loved ones, hoping they will survive.

“Most of the people who are poisoned are from Bidarahalli. There were about 100 people who had come to offer prayers from our village. I drove some of the women in my auto and waited for them to return so we could go back home. It was a happy day. Everyone was smiling when we set off from our village. No one expected this kind of tragedy to haunt us.”
Vishwa, Auto driver from Bidarahalli, whose sister is undergoing treatment

Relatives of patients sit around in the waiting area of the hospital, holding each other, consoling their families. "We are from a small village. No one is taking care of my sister's husband. The doctors keep telling us to wait. Not knowing whether they will be alright, we are just waiting here. The politicians come and go but when we ask for help, no one is there," says Girija.

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Thirty-five-year-old Salamma's body was taken to the mortuary on Sunday morning. Her family is trailing behind the stretcher, weeping and distraught. "We went to get God's blessing. What sins did we commit that she is putting us through such harsh punishment. My daughter was only there to pray. She did not do anything wrong to deserve this," Salamma's mother Ammayamma says.

Doctors at the KR Hospital say that the patients are currently undergoing treatment for pesticide poisoning.

“The rice sample has been sent for testing but so far we have been treating patients for pesticide poisoning after we diagnosed the reason for food poisoning. Two more people died today. Nine are still critical.” 
Dr Rajesh, the Superintendent at KR Hospital.

The Investigation

On Sunday, the Rampura police registered a case against seven people. Chinnappi (55), Mahadevaswamy, Eranna the cook, Lokesh alias Madaiah, assistant cook, Mahadeva the priest, Puttaswamy and others.

“We suspect that there were more people involved in the crime. So far it looks like a dispute between the Saaluru Mutt in Malemahadeshwara and the temple’s management. We suspect that many of the people involved have gone into hiding in the forest,” Rampura police said.

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Four teams have been formed to hunt down the suspects, and they are currently combing through the neighbouring villages.

“We are questioning the suspects in custody and will reveal more details once the probe is complete,” the police added.

The seven accused have been booked under Sections 304 (murder) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC. Further, it is alleged that the Kichugutti Maramma temple where the incident took place, has violated eco-sensitive zone norms

It appears that several illegal structures came up in the area which falls under the Male Mahadeshwara Wildlife sanctuary.

Meanwhile, state Health Minister Shivanand S Patil on Sunday said that he came to know about the tragedy only on the previous day. He was addressing reporters while on a visit to the KR Hospital where the patients are admitted.

(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute)

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Topics:  KARNATAKA   Temple   tragedy 

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