Fire at hostel in Russia: Families of Indian girls blame college for negligence
It was nearly 5,000 km away in Russia that a fire broke out in a students’ hostel in the wee hours of Sunday, but it was here in Maharashtra that two families woke up to their worst nightmare after they learnt of their daughters’ deaths.
Pooja Kallur (left) and Karishma Bhosale in their room on the hostel’s fourth floor
The heart-broken Bhosale family now blame themselves for sending their daughter to study medicine in Russia, instead of fulfilling her dreams in India. Karishma Bhosale (21) from Pune was in her fourth year studying at Smolensk State Medical Academy and she lived in the hostel (fourth floor, hostel number 2, house number 50) sharing a room another fourth-year student, Navi Mumbai’s Pooja Kallur. It was in the room next to theirs that the fire broke out, and by the time the girls were found, they had already suffocated to death.
A picture of the Bhosale family before Karishma left for the course in Russia
For both the families – the Bhosales from Pune and the Kallurs from Navi Mumbai – it wasn’t until hours later that they received a short call informing them about the incident, promising more details later. Since then, however, they have found little information or sensitivity from the officials, and are still struggling to piece together what happened that night.
The girls were in the room next to the one where the fire started on the fourth floor
“Around 2.59 pm on Sunday, I received a call from the college dean and vice-chancellor, Alok Aaron, who told me that Karishma was no more, that she had died in a massive fire. He said he would tell me more later, but since then his phone has been switched off,” said Karishma’s father, Uday (49).
He added, “Later, we contacted the college, but they started talking in Russian. When we requested them to speak in English, they replied harshly that they don’t know English and banged the phone. I was shocked by this insensitivity; till date, no one has communicated anything about the incident to us.”
Even as the family mourns her sudden death, they cannot help remembering that she would have turned 22 just next month. Karishma’s father blames himself for her loss. “Her birthday is on March 4. I am the most helpless father who could not fulfil his daughter’s dream to become a neurosurgeon. She was a good student and scored 80% in HSC but could not score well in the entrance exams because she was ill with chickenpox.
Admission in India was difficult and the donation for each seat was running upward of Rs 50 lakh. She found out about this institute and got a partial scholarship. I mortgaged our house and got a Rs 25 lakh loan for the rest. I wish I had had more money to pay donations to a college in India -- at least I would be able to see my daughter alive,” said Uday, who runs a small business in solar lighting appliances.
What makes the news even harder for them to digest is the fact that everyone else made it out of the fire safely except for the two girls.
Karishma’s youngster brother, Karan (18), is a first-year BCom student at SP College in Pune. He had last spoken to her hours before her death, while they were on a group chat with their cousin sister, Reshma Shinde.
They were planning her father’s 50th birthday in June and Karishma had promised to return for it.
“200 students lived in that hostel building, and it was only when a head count was done that they realised only 198 had made it out and two girls were missing. That’s when my sister’s friends called us. They claimed that a minor fire had broken out but was brought under control, and that they were all okay,” he recalled.
Karan added, “Later, my cousin and I started contacting the officials and professors but they turned a deaf ear to us. The Indian Embassy is helping us and providing information, but there has been no contact from the college till now. We want to know how the fire took place and the security loopholes that caused it. I do not understand -- if the fire broke out on the fourth floor, why didn’t they evacuate my sister first, since she was in the flat right next door? This is negligence.”
Arun added, “I cannot digest the fact that the institution is 195 years old and it had no emergency or fire alarms.”
Valentine’s Day surprise
Karishma had planned a surprise for her mother for Valentine’s Day, and had instructed her mother to call at 5 am, so they would be the first to wish each other. Her mother, Rani, knew something was wrong when Karishma didn’t pick up her calls in the morning. “My daughter wanted me to be the first to wish her this Valentine’s Day. She had also bought a purse for me with the stipend she got from her internship. I called her at 5, but she did not answer. The university is responsible for my daughter’s death,” she said.
Karishma had the last conversation with her family around midnight, as they were planning her father’s 50th birth anniversary. “At 12.30 am she said she had to get back to studying for exams. We had no idea that this would be our last conversation with her,” said Reshma, a cousin.