In death, as in life, is there a “class” bias?

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN: The Mangalore air crash in May last year was a horrendous tragedy in which 158 passengers and crew died.

The plane was just about to land and the majority of the relatives of passengers had even seen the plane touch down on the runway before the accident occurred.

The pilot unable to control the plane crashed on the tabletop runway.

After a dispute with regard to the quantum of compensation broke out, the Kerala High Court has awarded a compensation of Rs 75 lakh to the family of each victim, which is to be paid by the already cash-strapped Air India.

The compensation was based on the 1999 Montreal convention to which India is a signatory.

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These days Mamata didi’s trains are getting into some accident, tragedy or the other. She even has a train called Durantho (Bengali for ‘end to long distance’).

Tragically more and more trains are becoming casualties of duranth.

To the victims of rail accidents, the government gives Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the victims’ relatives, Rs 1 lakh for major injuries and Rs 25,000 for minor injuries.

67 passengers died in the train accident of Kalka Mail on 10 July 2011 . The government announced compensation as per the above scale to the families of victims.

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When an overcrowded jeep collided with a KSRTC bus near Tumkur on June 27 and 15 people died, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs 15,000 for the injured.

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The most obvious takeaway from these three accidents is that death is a great leveller in India: you may meet your end whether you are on foot, or in a bus, train or plane.

But why is there such disparity between compensation given to families of victims depending on their mode of travel? How does death on an aeroplane warrant such a huge compensation than death in a train or bus?

Is there a “class” bias even in death?

Does an air victim enjoy a higher “status” than a train or bus victim?

Is it because an air accident involving “people like us” gets more coverage, with glib relatives narrating their tale of woe on national television?

Death is death, regardless of the mode of accident but there is no comparison in the compensation handed out.

Are we applying different strokes to different folks?