Aarti Kalpekar was only one-and-a-half-month-old when her family house in Killari village in Latur district of Maharashtra collapsed when a devastating earthquake ravaged the region in the wee hours of September 30, 1993, just after the Ganesh festival. Aarti was sleeping with her parents and was stuck in the debris of their house following the devastating temblor. Though she and her mother survived, the quake claimed her father’s life.
For her mother, Sunita, who was abandoned by her in-laws following her husband’s death, Aarti was the only reason to forget her trauma. With the baby in tow, she moved to her maternal house in Ambulga village in the district and tried to stitch together torn pieces of her life. “My mother lived to ensure my well-being and my growth as a good and responsible human being. I was very good at studies and despite my aim to be an engineer, I could not get admission since the fees were not affordable. After doing MA, I completed DEd and now I work as a teacher,” Aarti said.
Although she is not aware of the hardships her mother went through and the trauma faced by the people in the last 25 years, Aarti said women in rural areas are empowered after the crisis strikes them. Her mother Sunita said she was married for less than two years when the disaster struck them in the form of the quake. “My nails came off when I was being pulled out of the debris. The earthquake struck at around 3.45 am and I was taken out around 9.30 am. After the quake, the tremors were felt till about 11 am. I was thrown out of the house, with the family asking why I survived while my husband could not,” Sunita said.
Around 52 villages in Latur-Osmanabad region were destroyed by the earthquake, which measured 6.4 on the Richter scale. Approximately 10,000 people died, while thousands of others were injured in the disaster. Killari was the epicentre of that earthquake. Sunita said over the years, she has overcome the trauma and set up a laundry and tailoring unit with the help of loan obtained from the self help groups (SHGs).
“I earn enough to sustain myself and my daughter. I married her off to my relative and they stay close to me. I had got Rs 25,000 compensation for being a quake survivor. I put that money in fixed deposit. Now, my husband’s family have cordial relations with me,” she said. Another survivor, 84-year-old Shankar Padsalgi, the then sarpanch of Killari village said, “You can’t move ahead in life without defeating all the obstacles. You have no other option.” “About eight families (in the village) were completely wiped out. The crisis was unprecedented. Heavy rains affected the relief and rehabilitation work. For six months, families lived under a single tent.
“When the reconstruction of houses started, there were lots of complaints about shoddy construction. Local authorities did not bother. The then Chief Minister Sharad Pawar intervened and then those structures were pulled down and fresh construction started,” he recalled. Dr Ashok Potdar (69), current deputy sarpanch of Killari who has been practising medicine there since 1976 said, “I had read in literature about darkness being the symbol of fear, mystery or evil. I got to experience this when disaster struck around 3.45 am on September 30, 1993.”
“I had just retired to bed some hours ago after attending to my patients in the hospital. As the earth around me shook, I woke up. It was so dark that I couldn’t see my hand. Heard cries, but after some time when I came out, everything fell silent,” he said. “There was death and destruction around. My hospital buildng was made of bricks, hence did not suffer much damage except that there were several cracks. Even though I was fortunate to be alive, I lost 14 members of my extended family,” he recalled with tears in eyes.
The rural primary health care centre at Killari was functional at that time, Potdar said adding that he came out to direct the survivors to the centre as his hospital was already full of patients. Subhash Lohar, another resident of Killari recounted how his family suffered in the last 25 years.
He said his family owned a huge mansion with nine acres of agriculture land. The mansion, which was in the name of his parents, suffered huge damages in the quake. He and his brothers lived separately nearby with their respective families and all had come together in their parents’ home for the Ganesh festival. He said he got a two-room house after living for five years in a transit camp, while his mother and father got four room tenements each. But, ten years ago, the tenement in his mother’s name was taken back by the local authorities and sealed.
“Now the house is illegally occupied by some other people. We cannot do anything. My parents passed away after a long battle to reclaim the house,” he said. Lohar said not all the survivors have got the ownership of reconstructed houses and certificates of being earthquake-affected.
However, despite battling hardships, none of the survivors have lost hope. As Aarti puts it, “Rural people know that they have the grit and determination to succeed.”