The Gujrat bus tragedy: Children burnt to death in a country that just doesn’t care

Published: May 29, 2013

A female relative of one of the schoolchildren cries over their coffin. (L) Men stand around the burnt-out school van. PHOTO: REUTERS

Glimpses of mothers wailing, the smoke from burning school bags and the funeral of at least 16 innocent angels still haunt me. They lost their precious lives when their school van caught fire – an indescribably agonising accident in Gujrat. The tragedy hasn’t left my mind since and my heart still weeps. 

We live in a country where bomb blasts and terrorist activities have made us collectively immune as a nation to the routinely-played episode of blood, terror and death. Every life is equally important, its loss, equally lamentable and its enemy equally reprehensible. But there is something immensely unsettling about watching dozens of little school children devoured in a ghastly fire, and yet having no one to blame. No closure to move on.

However, it brings some contentment to my soul as a concerned citizen to find a few news channels exhibiting newly-developed morals to discuss this heartbreaking accident. Channels are prioritising the Gujrat incident in those hours of the evening usually allocated to shameless, uncouth and unnecessary shows.

But is this much attention enough? Is it enough to paint a picture of the van driver as a criminal who intended this to happen? How can a sole person be responsible for something he wasn’t even aware of; the driver did not know the van would explode when he switched from gas to petrol.

Certainly, this accident is not an isolated event which points to the negligence of one driver. It highlights, yet again, the miserable state of affairs in a country operating without any proper enforcement of safety regulations.

A civilized country, for instance, takes prompt measures to ensure the security of its citizens above all other concerns. This might even mean launching fighter jets to escort aeroplanes perceived to have trouble onboard – these countries will do whatever it takes to ensure citizen safety. I envy their efficiency and often wonder if Pakistan will ever be able to reach even the most basic levels of such civilization.

The state is responsible when children are burnt alive. It is responsible for the helpless person who resorts to jumping out of a burning plaza in an attempt to avoid being burnt to death. 

Millions of lives lost because of negligence reflect the failure of the state’s machinery.

Instead of promising Rs 500,000 to every bereaved family each time they lose a loved one due to the state’s negligence, the powers that be should invest in building an effective crisis-management system to prevent such accidents in the first place.

How hard is it to stop wasting funds in pork-barrel gimmicks, mindless projects and extravagant campaigns, and to start putting money to good use?

How hard is it to prioritise and invest in the services that matter?

How hard is it to genuinely care?


Sarah Khan

An undergraduate student of senior year who is pursuing her Bachelors in Economics at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Final Solution

    Pakistanis are only interested in the Indian Gujrat tragedy of 2002 but turn a blind eye to their own Gujrat’s tragedy.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    A very sad incident. God bless little angels and their families.Recommend

  • SNJ


  • UMSyed

    We live in a country where bomb blasts and terrorist activities have made us collectively immune as a nation to the routinely-played episode of blood, terror and death.

    You nailed it.
    Allah only improves the conditions & circumstances of those who are willing to change & improve.Recommend

  • Hammad Qureshi

    very well written. Truly a tragic incident. Just goes to show that the state of affairs of the country. Recommend

  • Sidra Usman

    Very well written Sarah! This article truly portrays the situation prevailing in our country and we are so immune that we hear such incidents and forget it in a second. Recommend

  • m.

    Absolutely agree with you. These are the issues that need to be highlighted. Its a shame that we we have become so apathetic to accidents such as theseRecommend

  • Pakistani

    The root of all our problems is what you have pointed out — distorted priorities. Recommend

  • Justice delayed is justice denied

    he has finally woken up from his complacent slumber and takes a suo moto notice of the accident.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Excellent hard hitting and thought provoking article.
    Now the CJ has taken suo moto notice of the incident………….if like a lot of other times nothing comes out of this, no big fish are held responsible or punished, the frustration of the people will deepen and the perception that the State has collapsed will slowly become a reality.

  • Hammad

    Excellent Sarah khan , CJ has also took notice of that
    good effort
    Highly Appreciated :)Recommend

  • http://... nimra

    A very sad incident indeed! And we are going to get bullet trains in Karachi? These people do not know where to invest their money, they do not know what are our necessities and they talk about serving Pakistan! what did these lil angels do? They aspired to be educated? That’s it? Allah u Akbar! Please ya Rabbul Alameen, don’t be so angry on us, we have deviated and we have all become hard hearted, our lives are nothing but just a collection of desires, we have got no visions at all.. The people who attempt to make Pakistan a better place aren’t elected.. And these senseless people are elected over n over again.. Ya Allah is this all the consequences of our deeds? Plz forgive us ..Recommend

  • Muhammad Ateeq Ur Rehman Malik Advocate

    We live in a country where bomb blasts and
    terrorist activities have made us collectively immune as a nation to the routinely-played episode of blood, terror and death. You nailed it.
    Allah only improves the conditions & circumstances of those who are willing to change & improve and Pakistanis are only interested in the Indian Gujrat tragedy of 2002 but turn a blind eye to their own Gujrat’s tragedy.Recommend

  • KDP

    It is amazing to see how important and seriously safety is taken by the American Businesses as well as Government Agencies like school authorities.

    I used to get little annoyed when a School Bus driver in front of my car would slow down, come to a complete stop before a railroad tract, look in both directions and then proceed. Most Railroad crossing in urban ares are Equipped with lights and a arm to close when train is about to cross. However this mandatory stop before crossing railroad is required to prevent accidents due to a a remote possibility of equipment failure in which case flashing light signal may fail to come on and closing arm may not fall to close the road. There is also a warning sign in the back of the school bus that reads “We stop at all Railroad crossing” so that the vehicle behind the bus would keep a safe distance. High monetary penalty (up to $300 where I reside) for drivers speeding in school zones, Cars required to stop (in both directions of traffic) when school bus starts flashing red light indicating students stepping in or out of the bus, person to escort children passing traffic light are some more examples of how USA ensures safety of their citizens especially children. I also must admire discipline and respect most citizens have for such laws. Unfortunately people of all South Asian countries do not respect laws especially if they are inconvenient. I bet if we have similar laws (and we might have some on books now) there will be school bus drivers who may not stop at railroad ,drivers blowing horn if school bus stops in front of them, drivers maneuvering cars around children getting off the school bus etc.Recommend

  • Ansari

    Politicians thrive on the illiterate masses. They easily gather support from the poverty-stricken and disillusioned masses by using emotion and charisma.These people pose a threat to themselves but a greater threat is posed by the literati of Pakistan. They are educated to discern the right from wrong, and yet they sit idle, doing nothing. Why is there just one blog on the Gujarat Bus Tragedy? Why did just one person speak up against such injustice?

    Even though our country is plagued with consistent acts of terrorism, we must not think of a every new act of terrorism as just another act of crude violence. Victims of such acts should not die in vain and I thank Sarah for taking the initiative to bring light to this brushed-under-the-carpet issue.Recommend

  • safa

    We need to stand up. We need to. Especially those of us who are richer, well-fed, and content. We have much, MUCH larger responsibility towards our nation, our people, THESE CHILDREN, than those of us who are struggling. this is it. Please, don’t sit at home and watch this on tv, shed a few tears and then forget about it, thinking, ‘what can i do?’ Instead, let it be a trigger. let it be a purpose, for a patriotic fight. Let’s vow to fight all those who listen to their own desires. We have a thousand children to save, a million fathers to rescue, a trillion families to help.
    Pakistan needs no angel, no miracle, no Hercules of a Prime Minister.
    Pakistan needs us. Each and every one of us.Recommend

  • Educate

    @ KDP : i agree with you that introducing similar laws in S.Asia would lead to the drivers not respecting them and showing even more impatience. But that is not a justification for not having strict initiatives to introduce such laws. And more importantly, its not the introduction of laws that matters, it is how strictly and effectively they are enforced by the government. Strict punishments for violations can be one deterrent to stop people from breaking law. Furthermore, what is more important is to educate the citizenry. Its illiteracy and ignorance that breeds social ills like these. Its only the educated citizenry that is aware of the sanctity and importance of such laws and abides by them. Educating people, again, requires getting the priorities straight when it comes to managing national finances. Recommend

  • KDP


    I agree. However relevant education must start at home,Kindergarten, elementary and intermediate school level like it is here in the USA.
    In my opinion respect and compliance with laws by adults here in the USA is rooted and ingrained in to them in the elementary and intermediate school.It is very difficult to teach new tricks (behavior) to old dogs. I see and experience it when my children criticize my statements and behavior that sometime is triggered by that South Asian characteristics inside me.Recommend

  • john

    Nice blog but I fail to understand the purpose of these intense negative subject headings. “Nation that doesn’t care!!!” and millions of other similar headings that can be found on ET and other sites. Yes it was a tragic tragic incident but why do we Pakistanis just love slapping ourselves so much? If this is a nation that doesn’t care then you are part of this nation and before calling “everyone else” ruthless, first point fingers at yourself, highlight your own barbaric actions and then create and justify your headings that “yes!! since i am also least concerned about my own neighbours well-beings, therefore we are a nation that doesn’t care” But coming here with writing blogs and giving such negative generalised topics, you, the author make it sound like that all Pakistanis are full of hatred, oh but except for yourself because “I am writing a blog about it”. So this negative habit needs to stop now!Recommend

  • Adnan Shahid

    Law enforcement agencies like Motorway Police, City Traffic Police and others should take stern action against such vehicle, drivers and vehicle owners who are playing with the lives of innocent people just because of a little money.

    May Allah rest them all in heavens.Recommend

  • bla

    @ FInal Solution
    Your comment is is so baseless and hateful that I feel disgusted. Shame on You!!Recommend

  • Komal

    Brilliant article. You tried to hammer that the blame must not be given to one individual. Its a sad fact though that the commission that was assigned to look into the accident ended up holding the driver of the vehicle responsible. This approach will not solve such issues.Recommend

  • http://facebook Amber Sajid

    Past few years event like this and related to this kind of tragedy is a normal thing for a citizen of Islamic Republic Pakistan.But the question arises are we humans of whatever religion because not a single religion say to kill children to elders, women or men………talking discussing nothing changed. what the step be taken to change the mind. Recommend