At Least 121 People Dead in Stampede

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A tragic stampede during a Hindu religious ceremony in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, India resulted in the death of at least 121 people, primarily women and children, on Tuesday, July 2, according to local officials. The religious event drew nearly 250,000 participants, significantly surpassing the approved limit of 80,000, creating a lethal overcrowding situation.

The event was organized by a well-known Hindu preacher, Suraj Pal Singh, also known as “Bhole Baba.” Chaos ensued when attendees swarmed towards the preacher’s vehicle. Eyewitness accounts depicted a scene of mass panic, as the large crowd surged forward, trampling others who were still sitting.

According to initial police reports, aides and volunteers associated with the preacher made futile attempts to manage the crowd. The chaos started when Baba’s staff tried to prevent people from getting close to his car. Some participants, hoping to gather dust from the preacher’s path, added to the confusion, according to police.

A doctor at the local district hospital treating the injured confirmed that most victims died due to suffocation. The victims were brought in with severe respiratory issues. The overcrowding and insufficient oxygen led many to lose consciousness and suffocate. Of the 121 confirmed fatalities, 112 were women and seven were children, with 31 others injured in the stampede.

Following the incident, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the site and announced a judicial investigation. The panel, led by a retired judge from the Allahabad High Court and supported by a retired IAS officer and former IPS officer, will probe the incident. “A protocol for managing future events needs to be established to prevent recurring incidents,” Adityanath told the press.

A.P. Singh, Bhole Baba’s attorney, released a statement denying any misconduct by the preacher. Singh stressed that the preacher did not urge his followers to touch his feet or collect dust from his path. “Baba’s aides are ready to assist those impacted by this tragic event,” Singh stated.

In the ongoing investigation, police have been trying to locate Bhole Baba, who has been missing since the event. When they searched his residence at Ram Kutir Charitable Trust in Mainpuri district, they didn’t find him. A sign at the event site suggested that a group of devotees had arranged the gathering.

Witnesses described the horrific aftermath of the event. A junior official present at the scene reported to the district administrator that the preacher’s staff had prevented the devotees from approaching the vehicle, causing many to fall and be trampled. Some participants rushed towards adjacent open fields, only to slip in the mud, adding to the chaos.

A victim named Ruby had traveled a great distance with her father, Chedilal, to attend the event. “I was scared and ran away, calling my daughter on the phone,” Chedilal said. After a night of searching hospitals, he eventually found Ruby’s body at the Hathras district hospital the next morning.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences to the bereaved families and highlighted the need for improved crowd management at large gatherings. Stampedes at religious functions in India are not uncommon, often due to poor crowd control and inadequate safety measures. Previous incidents, such as the 2013 Madhya Pradesh festival stampede, have also resulted in significant loss of life.

The local authorities, including the police, have been criticized for their handling of the event. Residents and witnesses faulted the organizers for their insufficient preparation and crowd control. Ambulances were delayed due to severe traffic congestion on the national highway, which was blocked for up to three miles by the event attendees.

On Thursday, July 4, Indian police said they had arrested six people. Authorities stated that the four men and two women apprehended were assistants to Baba, involved in setting up the event, but they fled when the chaos erupted. When questioned about Baba’s involvement, a high-ranking police officer revealed that the preacher was not mentioned in the case they had documented.

“If there is a need, we will question (him) … It is too early to say whether he had a role,” Uttar Pradesh police Inspector-General Shalabh Mathur said.

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