Stam­pede kills 24 at re­li­gious gath­er­ing

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A stam­pede at a re­li­gious gath­er­ing in north­ern In­dia killed at least 24 peo­ple yes­ter­day as thou­sands of devo­tees of a con­tro­ver­sial guru tried to cross a bridge at once, police said. The fol­low­ers of Jai Gurudev, a leader of a lo­cal re­li­gious sect, had gath­ered on the out­skirts of Varanasi, a Hindu holy town on the banks of the river Ganges in Ut­tar Pradesh state, when the deadly stam­pede broke out. “A to­tal of 19 peo­ple have died in the in­ci­dent. Four­teen of the dead are women,” Hari Ram Sharma, police in­spec­tor gen­eral, told re­porters in the state cap­i­tal Luc­know.

At least four oth­ers were se­ri­ously in­jured and were un­der­go­ing treat­ment at a nearby hos­pi­tal. State police chief Javeed Ahmed blamed over­crowd­ing on the old iron bridge for the disaster. “They had sought per­mis­sion for 5,000 per­sons but many more peo­ple reached and joined the pro­ces­sion,” Ahmed told In­dia’s NDTV news net­work. “They were cross­ing a bridge when some ru­mor-mon­ger­ing hap­pened which led to the disaster.”

A spokesman of the re­li­gious sect said the stam­pede oc­curred af­ter a ru­mor spread that the nar­row bridge had col­lapsed, the Press Trust of In­dia (PTI) news agency re­ported. “The devo­tees were pro­ceed­ing to­wards the camp (across the river) but police started send­ing them back. This led to ru­mors that the bridge has col­lapsed,” Raj Ba­hadur told PTI. TV footage showed piles of colour­ful cloth­ing and slip­pers ly­ing in a heap with po­lice­men try­ing to clear the de­bris.

Over­whelm­ing crowds

“There was a lot of chaos, all of us were pushed and shoved. Many peo­ple have died in­clud­ing my mother,” a wit­ness told re­porters as am­bu­lances sped by. State Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav has or­dered a high-level en­quiry into the tragedy while an­nounc­ing mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion for the vic­tims, his spokesman Ra­jen­dra Chaud­hary said. Stam­pedes at In­dia’s re­li­gious fes­ti­vals, where a mix­ture of police and vol­un­teer stew­ards are of­ten over­whelmed by the sheer size of the crowds, are not un­com­mon. In July last year, a stam­pede on the banks of a holy river killed 27 pil­grims in south­ern In­dia.

Around 115 peo­ple were killed in Oc­to­ber 2013 at a stam­pede near a tem­ple in the cen­tral state of Mad­hya Pradesh, site of an­other deadly stam­pede there seven years ear­lier. Jai Gurudev, who died in 2012, is among sev­eral charis­matic self-styled “god­men” who en­joy a cult-like fol­low­ing among thou­sands of fol­low­ers. Typ­i­cally clad in white robes and tur­ban, Gurudev fiercely es­poused veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and claimed “to lib­er­ate the soul from the ro­ta­tion of birth and death” on his web­site.

In June, a break­away sect of his fol­low­ers were in­volved in a riot in Mathura city which killed 24 peo­ple. In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi said he was sad­dened by the loss of life in the lat­est in­ci­dent. “I have spo­ken to of­fi­cials & asked them to en­sure all pos­si­ble help to those af­fected due to the stam­pede in Varanasi,” Modi tweeted.

— AP

Hindu pil­grims hold re­li­gious flags and walk on a crowded bridge af­ter a stam­pede on the same bridge on the out­skirts of Varanasi.

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