India stampede: The poor and vulnerable pay a high price for negligence

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Vinod Kumar, 36, is inconsolable. He’s just identified the body of his wife and eight-year-old daughter at the district hospital in Hatras. 

“My world has crashed, I can’t find my mother, I don’t know where she is. I can’t even find her body. And no one is telling me anything,” he told Sky News.

The family had travelled from their village in Mathura for Tuesday’s religious function by preacher Bhole Baba.

An injured arrives in an ambulance at the Sikandrarao hospital in Hathras district about 350 kilometers (217 miles) southwest of Lucknow, India, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. Thousands of people at a religious gathering in India rushed to leave a makeshift tent, setting off a stampede Tuesday that killed more than hundred people and injured scores. (AP Photo/Manoj Aligadi)
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An injured person arrives in an ambulance at a local hospital. Pic: AP

Vinod said his mother was a follower and had been to several of these “satsangs” – prayer ceremonies – in the last 10 years.

Like Vinod, there are scores of families searching for their loved ones at hospitals that have been overwhelmed with victims.

The administration has put the death toll to 121, of which 117 are women and children, including a six-month-old baby.

Through the night, bodies were still being brought into the mortuary at the district hospital in Hatras.

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Sky News witnessed ambulances bringing four more people in – 12 hours after the incident.

There were dozens of bodies of women and children at the mortuary waiting to be identified and transported to the villages for the last rites.

Sanjay from Bareilly says he’s looking for his wife and mother-in-law. So far he’s drawn a blank here and no one is giving him any information.

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Over 100 killed in India stampede

His extended family is searching the two other hospitals in other districts.

There is anger among people, especially those who have lost loved ones.

They blame the organisers but the administration even more so for not providing emergency arrangements for safety and security at the venue.

People stand near the throne for preacher Surajpal, also known as 'Bhole Baba' at the site of the Hindu religious congregation, following which a stampede occurred, in Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, July 3, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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The throne for preacher Bhole Baba remained at the site of the stampede. Pic: Reuters

People stand near a poster of preacher Surajpal, also known as 'Bhole Baba' stuck on a board, at the site where believers had gathered for a Hindu religious congregation following which a stampede occurred, in Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, July 3, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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A poster of the preacher Bhole Baba on a board at the site of the stampede. He is now missing, and several of his ashrams have been raided. Pic: Reuters

Permission for a crowd of 80,000 was given by local authorities. But eyewitnesses told Sky News there were around 200,000 at the venue.

It became a death trap when the crowds surged towards Bhole Baba who was leaving after the function ended.

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A stampede followed as devotees were restrained by security.

An eyewitness said: “People started falling one upon another, one upon another. Those who fell were crushed and died.”

A general view of the site where believers had gathered for a Hindu religious congregation, following which a stampede occurred, in Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, July 3, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnav
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The site where a crowd of around 200,000 people gathered for the event. Pic: Reuters

Footwears of people are seen at the site of a stampede where believers had gathered for a Hindu religious congregation, in Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, July 3, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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Shoes and other belongings abandoned by people caught up in the crush. Pic: Reuters

A local administrator who did not want to be named told Sky News: “The blame is almost entirely on government agencies, for allowing such large numbers to congregate without safety measures. There were no people and vehicle management. There were no precautionary ambulances at the venue either.”

The preacher Bhole Baba – who is now at large – has been holding such events for over two decades. His followers are mainly Dalits, the marginalised class, and the vulnerable poor in rural India.

Criminal charges have been registered against the organisers.


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A number of the preacher’s ashrams have been raided but he’s still missing.

The state government has ordered an inquiry into the incident and has promised compensation.

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath visited the injured at Hatras hospital and will be closely monitoring the relief measures.

But for the families of the victims, the loss is immeasurable. And far too often people have endured such tragedies due to negligence.

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