October 18, 2013

INDIA: Indian Temple Stampede: Officials Launch Investigation After Scores Left Dead

The Guardian UK
written by Jason Burke in Delhi
Monday October 14, 2013

Indian authorities have ordered a judicial investigation into the stampede near a temple in central India that killed more than 100 pilgrims on Sunday.

The death toll from the stampede at the temple in a remote part of central Madhya Pradesh state has risen to 115 after many succumbed to injuries, officials say.

Nearly half a million pilgrims had gathered at Ratangarh village temple to honour the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navratri festival. Thousands were crossing a bridge over the Sindh river leading to the temple when rumours spread that the narrow structure would collapse. Panic triggered a stampede that police appear to have tried to control with baton charges, worsening the situation.

At least half of the casualties were women and children, officials say.

Fatal crushes are not rare in India, where huge gatherings at religious festivals often expose poor planning by underprepared, poorly equipped and ill-trained local officials.

A similar tragedy killed 56 in the same location in 2006 when pilgrims were washed away after the river surged following a release of water upstream. The 500-metre-long bridge where the latest stampede occurred was constructed to prevent a recurrence of that disaster.

Earlier this year, 36 people died in a crush at a train station in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh as they travelled to the huge Kumbh Mela festival. Delayed trains had led to massive overcrowding and the collapse of a footbridge.

More than 100 worshippers were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the southern state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 at a temple in Rajasthan.

Witnesses in each incident described police using metal-tipped bamboo staves known as lathis in an effort to control the crowds.

DK Arya, the deputy inspector general of police in the Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh state, told the Press Trust of India that police wielding sticks had charged the crowd in an effort to contain the panic. People retaliated by hurling stones, leaving one officer badly injured.

More than 100 people were recovering in hospital.

State authorities have ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident and announced compensation of 150,000 rupees (£1,500) to the families of the dead.

Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India's ruling Congress party, expressed "shock and deep anguish over the tragic incident", according to a party statement.

No comments: