Death toll from stampede at Hindu temple rises to 115

Pilgrims blame authorities for failing to control panic on bridge

Indian Hindu pilgrims walk through a bridge across the Sindh river yesterday, where scores of people died in a  stampede. Photograph: Mahesh Jha/AP

Indian Hindu pilgrims walk through a bridge across the Sindh river yesterday, where scores of people died in a stampede. Photograph: Mahesh Jha/AP

 


The death toll in the stampede which occurred at a Hindu temple in India’s central Madhya Pradesh province climbed to 115 yesterday as several of those seriously hurt in the melee succumbed to their injuries.

Officials said the victims who died in the stampede on Sunday at the Ratangarh temple, 390km north of the provincial capital Bhopal, included 17 children and 31 women.

They said scores of bodies were recovered from the fast-flowing Sindh river below, but there are fears that many may have been washed away.

Survivors of the tragedy, which occurred on the narrow, dual-lane bridge leading to the temple recounted how screaming mothers had flung their children into the river as the stampede hurtled out of control in the dark about 9pm local time.

Pilgrims blamed the authorities for their inability to control the panic sparked by rumours that the 500m long bridge was about to collapse.

The concrete bridge was built recently to replace the earlier, wooden one following a stampede in which 50 people were killed in 2006.


Baton-charge
Pilgrims claimed the police aggravated the panic by conducting a baton-charge in a desperate attempt to try and regulate about 200,000 people packed tightly on the bridge and waiting to enter the temple. Another 400,000 devotees were already inside the shrine honouring the Hindu goddess Durga on the last day of the 10-day Navaratra festival.

“People were jumping off the bridge to save themselves, but they could not swim against the tide. I also saw children being tossed from the bridge, only to be drowned” survivor Manoj Sharma said. “I saw a mother desperately trying to protect her baby amidst the swelling, rushing crowds. But both died before my eyes. It was a horrific sight.”


Politicised
A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the incident which within hours became politicised with the Congress Party-led federal government blaming the provincial administration run by the Opposition Hindu nationalist BJP for the tragedy.

Stampedes are relatively common at places of worship across India where large crowds congregate in confined spaces with little or no safety measures or attempts at crowd control.

Over 100 people died in a stampede at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in southern Kerala state two years ago whilst, in 2008, some 250 Hindu pilgrims were similarly crushed to death at the Chamunda Devi temple in the medieval Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in western Rajasthan province.