Monday, 14 October 2013

Stampede on bridge leading to Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh, death toll rises to 109 pilgrims (update)

The Navratra festivities ended in tragedy when 109 pilgrims including women and children were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede on a bridge leading to the historic Ratangarh temple in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. It was a disastrous re-run of the 2006 stampede when more than 50 pilgrims had got washed away falling in panic into the Sindh river off the same bridge in 2006.

Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses, as Hindus celebrate the end of the Navaratri festival.

The festival is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples, especially in northern and central India.

Hundreds of thousands of devotees had thronged the remote Ratangarh village temple in Madhya Pradesh state's Datia district to honor the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival.

Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple in Datia district, which is about 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of the state capital Bhopal, when the stampede took place.

Eyewitnesses said over-crowding of the bridge, which is 500m long and 10m wide, caused one of its railings to snap, which led some people to shout that the bridge was collapsing. With more than a lakh of people for the pilgrimage, this set off panic with people trying to rush to safety, which caused the stampede.

Unconfirmed reports said police lathi charge to control pilgrims from jumping a queue created alarm and drove people in one direction, leading to sudden surge of people on the bridge that caused one of its railings to snap, which in turn created the panic. Sindh, a tributary of the Yamuna, is engorged with rains in past weeks and many people also fell into the river, the reason why administrative officials fear that the death toll could rise.

It may also have been caused a rumour that a bridge to the Ratangarh temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh was about to collapse after it was hit by a lorry.

Most died after being crushed underfoot but others are believed to have drowned after jumping into the river.

Ashok Argal, a federal lawmaker from the region, placed the blame on crowds trying to rush across the bridge.

"It is wrong to say there were any administrative lapses. The administration had taken steps and made fool-proof arrangements to avoid any untoward incident," he told AFP.

"Sometimes there is little cooperation from people and people are always in a hurry, because of which this unfortunate incident occurred."

The Times of India reported that crowds could be seen pelting police with stones as frustration grew over the rescue operation.

Efforts to reach the injured and ferry them to hospital were being hampered by the huge volume of traffic in the area.

The bridge itself was a ghastly sight with bodies sprawled even as rescue teams from Gwalior, a mere 75-odd km away, were delayed due to battered roads and a 10-km long traffic jam. Pilgrims said there were only nine constables and a sub-inspector manning more than one lakh people along the 500-metre bridge when the stampede occurred.

"We have counted 105 bodies so far. Several pilgrims died on way to hospital. The toll may rise," said chief medical and health officer RH Gupta. Director general of police Nandan Kumar Dubey put the toll so far to "around 85". Most of the lakh-odd pilgrims in Datia, around 405 km north of Bhopal, were from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The crush of the stampede killed mostly women and children. Many bodies were pulled from the river, but there were fears that some bodies may have been washed away.

Relatives crowded a state-run hospital to take the bodies after the autopsies and searched frantically for loved ones among the injured people being treated there. Volunteers and residents pulled many bodies out of the Sindh River, where people had jumped when the chaos started Sunday.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a judicial inquiry into the tragedy and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has expressed shock and anguish. The Ratangarh temple is 55 km from the Datia district headquarters.

India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at least 36 people trampled to death in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.

Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.

Monday 14 October 2013


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