by Sheetal Akhade, introduction by Dr. Kiran Thakur
This is part of a three-feature case study on follow-up of a news story published by Pune Marathi daily Loksatta on 15th January 1990. Sunil Kaduskar, then a 32-year-old reporter covered an accident in which an industrial worker died at a railway crossing while trying to save a 14-year-old deaf and dumb girl. She died because she could not hear the train whistle.
This case study includes the role of the Loksatta editorial functionaries to help the victim’s family from 1990 until now. Three journalism students of Vishwakarma University did a follow-up of the 1990 story to write one feature each, in Marathi, English, and Hindi.
What happens if a 14-year-old deaf and dumb girl is crushed to death because she could not hear the whistle of the speeding train? Within the same instant, an Ammunition Factory worker is knocked down trying unsuccessfully to save the girl from the jaws of death, on 15th January 1990.
Loksatta, 15 January, 1990
The two simultaneous deaths were witnessed by scores of onlookers waiting at the Wakadewadi railway crossing in Pune’s Shivajinagar. Nothing would have normally happened except for a two-paragraph news story in local newspapers. The two persons unknown to each other were nearly destined to remain confined to a drab police press note, not seeing the light of even a snippet in a Pune newspaper.
Loksatta, Editorial column
Destiny had, however, planned something different for the worker’s family. The police press note was handled by a reporter of Loksatta, a Marathi daily belonging to the Indian Express group of newspapers. He spent time and energy investigating the why and the who of the tragedy. It was not a case of a love-lorn couple as the onlookers and even the police thought initially.
It was a great sacrifice of a human being for an unknown girl whose fault was that she could not hear the train whistle. She attempted to cross a railway track like hundreds of others used to do every day on any given day earlier and later.
Loksatta News Story
The young reporter, Sunil Kaduskar (then 32 years old), did some legwork for a couple of days. He found out that the girl (Sujata Shankar Dhiwar) was on her way home from school. Kisan Kadam was a 35-year-old Ammunition Factory worker who jumped to save her, without thinking about his own life and the fate of his family members. For Sunil, it eventually turned out to be a story beyond the Five Ws, and One H: Who, What, where, when, why and H, the basics his journalism teacher had taught him in the media class.
Loksatta News Story
Writing a news story for Loksatta that evening, he began thinking about Kisan Kadam’s sacrifice. Why did he have to do it? What would now happen to his family? His widow was a housemaid earning only a pittance every month. She now had to look after three kids and a handicapped brother. She would not afford even a ramshackle hut in a Wakadewadi slum.
Kaduskar discussed the situation with Resident Editor Anil Takalkar and Chief Editor Madhav Gadkari. He pleaded with them that Kisan’s was a supreme sacrifice on par with that of soldiers who lay down their lives on the battlefield.
Gadkari was a sensitive editor with a track record of taking up causes of the deserving downtrodden. He wrote a touching article in his weekly column ‘Chaufer’ urging the readers to help widow Vaijayanta, her two daughter, a son, and a handicapped brother. The family lived in the eight by eight hut in the slum along the train track. It would not afford even that space that now. Gadkari did not stop at making a mere newspaper appeal. He set up a fund-raising committee under his chairmanship and Kaduskar and Takalkar as the members. Indian Express Group Chairman and Managing Director Vivek Goenka initiated the drive with a donation of Rs. 25,000.00. Readers contributed spontaneously. Soon, the committee made an announcement in Loksatta columns that it would close the drive when the fund reached Rs 89,000.00. The same day an inmate of an Old-age Home (Mrs. Meera Gogate) rushed to the Loksatta office with a cheque of Rs. 11,000. She wanted the fund to reach a round figure of Rs One Lakh. She had experienced the grief of widowhood and wanted to help Vaijayanta during her critical period.
Kisan Kadam’s family
The overwhelming response from the newspaper drive and its readers prompted the factory management to give Vaijayantabai a class-four menial job on compassionate ground and provide her servants quarters. The management took up the responsibility of the education expenses of the children.
This was possible because of the support of the committee and the Loksatta team including the then General Manager, Mr. George Varghese, now Chief Executive officer, The committee evolved a plan to disburse the fund judiciously to meet the needs of the family. Kaduskar came across Good Samaritans at every stage of his involvement with the family.
The committee invested Rs one lakh in a nationalised bank-run trusteeship company. The fund in the account grew to Rs eight lakhs in the course of the time. The committee helped the family invest in booking a flat which was ready recently. Expenses for the children’s weddings were available on time. Vaijayantabai’s family responsibilities were thus over before she is scheduled to retire in February 2022. Sunil Kaduskar is now a 63-year- old retired journalist. In his career, he must have covered scores of interesting and challenging journalistic assignments. Yet for him, Kisan’s was the most satisfying one that he would undoubtedly remember the rest of his life.
About the Author:
Sheetal Akhade is a student, Vishwakarma University, Pune.
Dr. Kiran Thakur is a Professor Emeritus & Director at VU Centre of Communication for Development, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Vishwakarma University.