Bengaluru can't forget the fire tragedy of 1981

Kerala blaze brings back memories of Venus Circus incident
Last Updated : 10 April 2016, 20:59 IST
Last Updated : 10 April 2016, 20:59 IST

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For many Bengalureans, the death of over 100 people in a fire at a Kerala temple on Sunday, brought back dark memories.

As they watched the scenes of people burnt alive during the firework show at Puttinagal temple in Paravur in Kollam on their television screens, Bengalureans recalled the infamous Venus Circus fire tragedy which had claimed 92 lives and left around 300 injured in the city on February 8, 1981.

For, it is the only fire disaster of that magnitude Karnataka has witnessed.
Recollecting what he had personally seen, senior criminal lawyer C H Hanumantharya said the circus tent was erected right next to the old Lutheran Church near Jakkarayanakere, some 100 feet away from the railway tracks. High tension electricity wires were running over the tent.

“That fateful evening, I was returning to my Rajajinagar house from my office in Avenue Road in an autorickshaw. “As I reached Jakarayanakere, I noticed hundreds of people running helter and skelter and could hear the cries of circus animals. I got down from the autorickshaw right away and caught hold of a person who was sprinting. He said the circus tent had caught fire,” Hanumantharaya recalled.

It was the last day of the circus. School children formed the bulk of the audience for the evening show as the circus management had thrown open the gates.
The kids were accompanied by their teachers and some parents.

Thick smoke
“I saw thick smoke billowing out and went a little ahead to get a closer look. The tent was reduced to ashes and bodies of children were strewn around, most of them burnt. The injured were found screaming for help. I managed to stop as many vehicles as possible and pleaded with drivers to take them to KC General Hospital or Victoria hospital. The police had not yet arrived, it was only the public and autorickhsaw drivers who took stock of the situation. They also cut the ropes which were tied to the horses and other animals. Some animals were burnt alive while the others managed to escape and were caught later,” he said.

Teacher G Kowsalya, then a college student and a resident of Rajajinagar, said: “The evening show was coming to an end. As it was getting dark, I dragged my younger brother out as we had to walk back home. Just as we came out of the tent, people started running out, shouting ‘benki, benki’ (fire! fire!). I held onto my brother and sprinted some distance. As I looked back, I found the entire tent had caught fire fell straight on the audience. “There was a stampede as there was apparently a single exit point. People asked us to take a different route, as a lion from the circus had entered the adjoining railway quarters. Many people had climbed the trees and were directing others not to enter the quarters.”

Hanumantharaya said an inquiry commission was formed under the chairmanship of the then high court judge Justice NR Kudoor. The then sessions judge BN Krishnan, was appointed its secretary.

An investigation revealed that the high-tension electric cables overhead were the cause of the fire.

Published 10 April 2016, 20:59 IST

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