Hadhras: More than 120 people, mostly women, have been killed in clashes at an Indian religious event

New Delhi

A stampede at a religious gathering in northern India killed more than a hundred people, mostly women, on Tuesday in one of the deadliest incidents the country has seen in recent years.

Many of those killed fell into an open drain next to the scene. Police are investigating organisers, saying a quarter of a million people turned up at the venue – three times more than expected – and only a few dozen police officers were stationed.

Investigators are following the self-styled God Bole Baba who led the event. The disaster happened at a prayer meeting known as a satsang in Mughalgarhi village in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. The village in Hadhras district is about 200 kilometers (124 mi) southeast of the capital New Delhi.

At least 121 people died and 35 were injured, Education Minister Sandeep Singh told reporters on Wednesday as scores of people rushed to touch Bole Baba’s feet, leading to the collapse.

Singh had earlier said that almost all of those killed were women, and that at least seven of the dead were children.

Around 72 bodies have been identified so far, and dozens of injured are being treated at nearby hospitals, local health officials said.

Local authorities have attributed the accident to overcrowding.

Around 80,000 people are expected to attend the event where Boleh Baba was preaching. Still, “a lot of people showed up,” Singh said.

Police have been searching for Bole Baba since the fatal incident, and according to a police report carried by CNN, organizers of the event have been accused of culpable homicide, wrongful restraint of a person, disappearance of evidence or providing false information.

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Permits were sought for the event with 80,000 participants, although more than 250,000 devotees turned up, according to the report.

As organizers and officials tried to direct the crowd, thousands tried to leave and dozens were trampled in the ensuing chaos, it added. The report alleged that the organizers of the event did not provide any help to the injured and tried to cover up the incident by hiding clothes and shoes lost in the crush in a nearby field.

Additional Director General of Agra Police Anupam Gulsreshda told reporters that about 40 policemen have been deployed for security at the event.

Describing scenes of chaos as people fell on top of each other and started falling into the nearby open drain, Chief Secretary Singh said, after the event, the deadly scenes unfolded as devotees of Bole Baba rushed towards the dais to touch his feet. .

He accused the organizers of failing to comply with a list of requirements provided by the district. A high-level inquiry has been launched to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident and according to local authorities, a police report will be filed against the event organizers for allegedly exceeding the permissible attendance limit.

“There is a huge lapse on the part of the organisers. They will face severe punishment,” he said.

Survivors spoke of the horrific incident that followed. “People started falling on each other, on each other. The crushed died. The people there pulled them out,” Shakuntala Devi told the Press Trust of India news agency, the Associated Press reported.

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Shalap Mathur, Inspector General of Ambala Range in the neighboring district, said that efforts are underway to provide medical care to the injured and arrangements are being made for post-mortem at various locations.

A video distributed by Reuters showed people gathering outside a hospital in nearby Eta district, where affected families wept for the victims. Medical personnel were seen carrying people on stretchers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled in his speech in Parliament.

Modi said the government is carrying out relief and rescue operations and is working in coordination with the state government. “All possible help will be given to the victims,” ​​he said.

Crowd suppression at religious gatherings is not uncommon in India, and deadly incidents have made headlines in the past, highlighting the lack of adequate crowd control and security measures.

In January 2022, a New Year attraction at one of India’s holiest sites in Jammu, in the country’s north, killed at least a dozen people. In 2008, nearly 150 people gathered for a religious event in western India died in a stampede on a mountaintop, and three years ago, more than 250 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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