The heroes who have risen from the ashes of the 1993 Latur, Osmanabad earthquakes

Sep 29, 2013, 06:28 IST | Kaumudi Kashikar-Gurjar

After a ravaging earthquake hit Latur and Osmanabad on September 30, 1993, rebuilding lives seemed like a distant dream. Five men, however, took their future into their own hands and shifted cities to finish their education. Today, some of them are giving back the benevolence they once received from society. Twenty years later, they admit that rebuilding their lives seemed daunting. Resilience however, can be poultice for the wounded spirit.

In the wee hours of September 30, 1993, lives of locals in more than 50 villages from Latur and Osmanabad districts got buried in debris. A powerful tremor, measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, uprooted families, orphaned kids and numbed hundreds of parents. Even today, 20 years later, survivors often say they are unable to make peace with the disturbing memories and the loss of near and dear ones continues to haunt them.

Students at the Educational Rehabilitation Project by Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana at Wagholi. Pic/Sachin Thakare

But life moves on. Among the many wrenching stories are also those of five survivors who have come a long way and have, to a large extent, put the past behind them. At the time of the quake, these survivors were wide-eyed toddlers or slightly older children. After the disaster, like most other children, these survivors hovered around rescue camps and made a beeline outside help centres.

Audumbar Bansode Nandurga (R) was 12 years old at the time of the earthquake, and now works as a teacher in Latur

The quake razed many schools buildings in Latur and Osmanabad, as most were weak structures. Restoration seemed a distant possibility and most children from the 52 villages faced a bleak future, when an NGO, Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS), stepped in. Shantilal Muttha, chairperson of BJS says, “As we were conducting rescue work in earthquake-affected areas, we observed that kids who had witnessed this tragedy were deeply disturbed, the schools were not operational and children were making a beeline for clothes and food at one of the distribution centres. This forced me to think that if this goes on, the children will suffer because their education will be affected, and accepting help might become a habit.

I thought that if they are shifted to Pune, their future could be restored. That is how the children were first shifted to Aatmanagar in Pimpri and later on to the Education Rehabilitation Project at Wagholi.”  Over 1,200 students from quake-affected areas came to Pune in 1993 to start their life on a fresh note. Today, most of them say they consider themselves successful when it came to shaping their lives and enthusing new hope among their families and social circle.  They lead by example -- the past, they all believe, matters only if you allow it to. For those who are bent on forging new lives with resilience, the calamity, grim and debilitating though it was, has proved to be a stepping stone toward success.

‘I missed death by a whisker’
Audumbar Bansode, born in Ausa, Latur, was 12 years old when the quake struck the region. He is now a teacher at Gold Crest High School, Latur.

An active member of Maharashtra Andhashradhha Nirmulan Samiti Latur, Audumbar Bansode, conducts various social activities to spread social awareness in his city. Bansode strongly believes that social change should begin with one’s home and he has stopped his family members from accepting dowry when his younger brother got married. Like his role model, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Bansode is a teacher at an ICSE school in Latur and has married an earthquake survivor who lost everyone in the family.

When the quake hit Latur and Osmanabad, Bansode lived at Uddattur in Lohara Taluk in Osmanabad at his aunt’s place and was 12 years old. He was alone with his sister-in-law who got trapped under the debris. Bansode, who was saved miraculously, continued looking for her. He said, “My aunt and my cousin were on their way from Pune when we were hit by the quake. They were supposed to return the night before but thanks to a pickpocket who stole my cousin’s wallet, they did not make the journey. A truck driver dropped them back home. They were on the way when the quake hit the area. If this had not happened, the death toll at our home could have been higher.”

Bansode says that 50 per cent of the population in his village was wiped out in the tragedy. He adds that the decision to come to Pune proved to be a life-altering one as he and many other students from the quake-affected area received quality education. Recounting his experiences, he says “My relatives were reluctant to part as they thought I had missed the death by a whisker, and felt deeply protective.” Bansode, who completed MA and B Ed, now works as a teacher at Gold Crest High School in Latur.

‘Students chased trucks that came for relief work’
Babasaheb Dudhbhate, born in Ausa, Latur was 16 years old in 1993. He now works as Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pune
Babasaheb Dudhbhate is credited for having rejuvenated the activities of National Service Scheme at Pune University campus. He teaches history at postgraduate level and often organises camps for students to give them an opportunity to participate in developmental work in rural areas. Dudhbate’s commitment towards social work through NSS has lot to do with his childhood memories of massive destruction caused by the tremors of the Latur-Osmanabad quake and the subsequent help extended by BJS to complete his education. He says that the memories of the earthquake continue to haunt him even today. He was 16 years back then, and his village was 16 km away from the epicenter of earthquake. The extent of the devastation was lesser compared to many other villages close to Killari.

“We experienced an earthquake for the first time, and were unable to gauge what was happening around us. I only realised something strange was happening to the walls around me, but I did not know that this was called an earthquake,” he adds. Months later, Dudhbhate lived in the fear of aftershocks, he now remembers. “Most of the villagers preferred to live in relief camps, and students spent their days chasing the trucks that brought help for the villagers. All schools and colleges were shut.” Like other children from his village, Dudhbhate, too, came to Pune and studied at the school and college run by BJS. He passed the SET examination, too. “I never repent my decision to come to Pune for further education.” He passed BA with first class, completed his masters, and then joined Elphinstone College as Assistant Professor. Now, Dudhbhate is Assistant Professor of History at Pune University. 

‘I have picked up the pieces and nurtured my talent’
Bhairavnath Lohatkar, born in Rajegaon, Osmanabad, was 11 years old when the quake hit the region. He now works as Senior Web Designer at IIT Powai
F ew people know that Bhairavnath Lohatkar, an unassuming young man from Osmanabad, designed the logo of the ambitious Aakash tablet. Fellow colleagues at IIT Powai know Lohatkar as an accomplished web designer but little do they know that he lost eight family members when the quake hit Osmanabad in 1993. Lohatkar, who lost both his parents to illness much before the quake, lost close family members in 1993. Having survived one personal blow after another, Lohatkar has carved his own course of life to become an accomplished web designer.

Bhairavnath Lohatkar battled the earthquake trauma and is now a web designer at IIT Powai

Lohatkar was just 11 years old when tragedy struck and was saved because he was staying at a hostel at Latur. Lohatkar says, “The walls around us trembled dangerously at the Maharashtra Vidyalaya Hostel. As the day progressed, we noticed that most people were out on the street. Soon, parents began coming to the hostel to pick up their children. I lost eight family members, and there was no one left to pick me up,” rues Lohatkar. Later, he, too, came to Pune like many from the quake affected areas. He says, “I was not good at studies but I was interested in drawing and painting. Had it not been for the teachers at BJS who nurtured my talent, I would not have been successful in honing my inherent talent.” Lohatkar, who completed his diploma in arts from Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, is now a web designer atIIT Powai.

Around 1,200 students from Latur and Osmanabad shifted to Pune to resume their studies

‘We turned to shrinks for help because we couldn’t stay inside another building’
Hanmant Kashinath Ghodake, born in Ashiv, Latur, had a miraculous escape in 1993. He works as a clerk at the Health Department, Pune
Recently, Hanmant Ghodke experienced one of the proudest moments of his life -- he received the Best Employee Award awarded by the Pune Zilla Parishad for his remarkable service in primary heathcare in the area. Ghodke is active in spreading awareness about the various schemes launched by the government for the benefit of the region’s rural population. A senior clerk at one of the government dispensaries, his collective efforts were responsible in doubling the number of institutional deliveries as compared to last year. Ghodke has slain formidable demons. “Eight people died in our village during the 1993 quake.

Hanmant Ghodke (L), a quake survivor, works as a clerk in the state’s Health Department

We were luckier than most others to have shifted to a temporary house made of wood. The extent of damage was limited and everyone in our family was safe.” Soon after the quake, as most of the schools were closed, Ghodke thought his life as a student had come to an end. But the BJS decided to take 1,200 students to Pune for educational rehabilitation. Ghodke says, “Initially, we were scared and reluctant to stay in any building, fearing that another quake would hit us and reduce us to rubble. To ward off our fears, psychiatrists were called in, and they interacted with us. Soon, the efforts showed results and, we could concentrate on our studies. Speeches given by well-known personalities helped us broaden our perspective.” Ghodke also got an opportunity to participate in the rescue team at Bachaav in Jammu-Kashmir after the quake hit the region in 2001. “I think I was able to help them better because I had experienced the horrors myself,” he says.

‘My parents survived just because they were buried under the debris’
Amar Birajdar, born in Manglur, Latur, owns a dairy and is Founder member of Bhukanmp Kruti Samiti 
Amar Birajdar is a classic case of someone who has given back to society in gratitude of what he received from it. He is founder member of Bhukamp Kruti Samiti, a committee formed by quake-affected residents of Latur and Osmanabad to ensure that the quake survivors get government jobs through the three per cent quota as promised by then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar. Birajdar and other committee members are successful in ensuring jobs for 2,000 survivors at various state government departments. Birajdar runs a small dairy at Manglur and works towards issues pertaining to quake- affected villages and its people. He claims, “As per the 1994 rehabilitation policy, the state government became the owner of the land where quake-affected villages once stood.

Amar Birajdar

But, till date, the Social Forestry Department has not taken initiative for re-plantation. The already devastated villages are in shambles.” Birajdar is trying to seek the Chief Minister’s appointment to discuss this issue. A trained social worker, Birajdar is a quake survivor. He was luckier than others because his parents and grandmother were buried deep down the debris then, and survived. He says, “My parents suffered from multiple bone injures and were hospitalised for months.” When BJS approached children from Manglur village asking them to come to Pune to complete their education, Birajdar joined them and completed his postgraduation. 

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