Hathras: Stampede at religious event in India kills over 120, mostly women


New Delhi
CNN

A stampede during a religious gathering in northern India killed more than 100 people on Tuesday, most of them women, in one of the deadliest incidents the country has seen in recent years.

Many of the dead fell into open sewers near the concert venue. Police are investigating the organizers, saying a quarter of a million people arrived at the venue — three times the number expected — and only a few dozen police officers were deployed.

Investigators are hunting Bhol Baba, a self-styled cleric who led the event. The disaster occurred at a prayer meeting, known as a satsang, in the village of Mughal Garhi in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The village is in the Hathras district, about 200 kilometres (124 miles) southeast of the capital, New Delhi.

At least 121 people were killed and 35 injured after a large crowd rushed to touch the feet of Bhol Baba, leading to a stampede, state education minister Sandeep Singh told reporters on Wednesday.

Singh said earlier that most of the dead were women, and that at least seven children were also among the dead.

Local health officials said about 72 bodies have been identified so far, and dozens of injured people are receiving treatment in nearby hospitals.

Local officials said overcrowding was the cause of the stampede.

The event, where Bhuppa was to deliver his sermon, was expected to be attended by about 80,000 people. But Singh said, “the turnout was much higher.”

Police have been searching for Bhol Baba since the fatal incident, and have charged the event organizers with involuntary manslaughter, unlawful restraint, causing evidence to disappear or providing false information, according to a police report seen by CNN.

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The ceremony was scheduled to be attended by 80,000 people, but the number of attendees exceeded 250,000, according to the report.

Organizers and officials tried to direct the crowds as thousands tried to leave, and in the chaos that followed dozens were trampled, the report said. The report alleged that event organizers failed to provide any assistance to the injured and tried to cover up the incident by hiding clothes and shoes lost in the stampede in a nearby field.

Agra Additional Director General of Police Anupam Kulshreshtha told reporters that around 40 policemen have been deployed to provide security at the event.

The deadly scenes began after the ceremony ended, when Bhol Baba’s followers rushed onto the stage to touch his feet, according to chief secretary Singh, who described scenes of chaos as people began falling on top of each other and into nearby open drains.

Organizers were accused of failing to comply with a list of requirements set by the region. A high-level investigation has been opened to look into the circumstances surrounding the incident and a police report will be filed against the event organizers for allegedly exceeding permitted attendance levels, according to local officials.

“There has been a major shortcoming on the part of the organizers, and they will face severe punishment,” he said.

Survivors described the horrific incident that followed. “People started falling on top of each other, on top of each other. Those who were crushed died. People there pulled them out,” Shakuntala Devi told the Press Trust of India news agency, according to the Associated Press.

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Inspector General Shalabh Mathur of the neighbouring Ambala Range said efforts were on to provide medical care to the injured and arrangements were being made for post-mortem examinations at various locations.

A video posted by Reuters showed crowds gathering outside a hospital in the nearby Eta region, where grieving families wept over the victims. Medical staff were seen carrying people on stretchers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences in a parliamentary address.

Modi said the government was carrying out “relief and rescue work” and coordinating with the state government. “Victims will be helped in every way,” he added.

Stampedes at religious gatherings in India are not uncommon, and fatal incidents have made headlines in the past, highlighting the lack of adequate crowd control and safety measures.

In January 2022, a stampede occurred at one of India’s holiest shrines in Jammu, in the country’s north, killing at least a dozen people. In 2008, nearly 150 people gathered for a religious event in western India died in a stampede on a hilltop, and three years earlier, more than 250 people were trampled to death during a pilgrimage in the western state of Maharashtra.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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