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Tragedy in Mughal Garhi

Indian bishops express closeness to stampede victims’ families

 Indian bishops express closeness to stampede victims’ families  ING-027
05 July 2024

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses deep sorrow over the deaths of 121 people following a stampede at a Hindu religious gathering in Mughal Garhi village, southeast of New Delhi, on 2 July.

“We pray for the eternal repose of the departed souls and hope that the injured recover quickly,” India’s bishops said, stressing their “spiritual closeness” during these difficult times. The tragedy unfolded on a rain-soaked field near a highway where the popular preacher Bhole Baba had delivered a sermon to a crowd vastly exceeding the permitted numbers. It is India’s most catastrophic stampede in over a decade. According to Agence France-Presse, the police report stated that over 250,000 people attended the event, significantly more than the 80,000 for whom the organizers had permission.

The disaster struck as the crowd began to disperse. Media reports indicated that a combination of heat, severe overcrowding, and a sudden dust storm led to panic, causing people to rush towards a narrow exit.

But further police investigation suggested the stampede began as followers tried to collect earth from the ground touched by the preacher. Some attendees reportedly fell into a roadside drain amidst the chaos, while others were blocked to facilitate the exit of the religious leader and his group first.

Discarded clothing and shoes littered the muddy site after the incident, marking the chaos that ensued as attendees fell over one another trying to exit the congested area. The state disaster management center confirmed the death toll and reported that almost all victims were women.

Sheela Maurya, a 50-year-old police officer who was on duty at the event, described the moment that led to the disaster. “Everyone — the entire crowd, including women and children — all left from the event site at once. There wasn’t enough space, and everyone just fell on top of each other,” said Maurya.

“These types of incidents are not just accidents,” said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The chief minister also noted that the tragedy occurred when the crowd tried to approach Bhole Baba as he was leaving, and were pushed around by the organizers.

In a nearby hospital’s makeshift morgue, families searched for missing loved ones among the unidentified bodies. Ram Nivas, a 35-year-old farmer, spent the night scouring local hospitals for his missing sister-in-law. “We haven’t been able to find her anywhere,” he lamented, holding on to hope that she might still be found alive.

The Indian government has responded with condolences and financial assistance, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing compensation for the families of the deceased and injured. President Droupadi Murmu expressed her grief, calling the deaths “heart-rending.”

The tragedy underscored the ongoing safety issues at large religious gatherings in India, where inadequate crowd management and safety protocols have previously led to fatal incidents.

In 2008, a similar stampede at a hilltop temple in Jodhpur claimed 224 lives. The latest incident underscores the urgent need for improved safety measures at religious events to prevent such devastating occurrences in the future.

By LiCAS News