Scenes of piety and devotion quickly turned to devastation Tuesday
as at least 16 people were killed in a stampede that broke out
when massive crowds had gathered near the Ganges for a religious
meet in this temple town.
About four lakh devotees were here for a five-day event that began
Sunday to propagate the Gayatri Mantra, one of the foremost chants
in Hinduism. But tragedy struck the gathering, which had been
lauded for its discipline.
Witnesses said the tragedy occurred when an elderly woman slipped
while walking through a barricaded route close to where 1,551 'yagyas'
- or fire rituals - were on.
"Once the woman fell, there was commotion. The crowds, however,
kept pushing ahead. In no time, people began to fall over one
another, crushing many," an activist for Gayatri Parivar, the
organisers, told IANS in Haridwar, about 50 km from the state
The activist, as well as local officials, said the dead included
14 women and two men. Most of the victims were elderly and
suffocated to death. Around 40 others were injured in varying
Within minutes, sounds of bhajans being sung were replaced by
ambulances with waling sirens rushing the dead, the dying and the
injured to a 10-bed hospital that the organisers had set up to
deal with emergency situations.
Some were taken to other hospitals in the Hindu holy town. "Some
of the injured are serious but not critical," a district official
Some of the injured -- men and women -- limped away from the site
of tragedy. Others were taken away on stretchers. Devotees walked
around, traumatised after the experience as others gathered at
hospitals to get news of their relatives.
Local officials claimed that the organisers had not told them that
lakhs would throng Haridwar during the event but the Gayatri
Parvar denied this.
"This is not at all true. A senior minister of Uttarakhand was at
our inaugural function, so was a former chief minister and a
central minister. And they all knew what a mammoth function we
were organising," the activist said.
Gayatri Parivar spokespersons had told IANS last week that they
expected some 50 lakh people to attend the event over five days.
"We knew about the crowds and we had told everyone including the
media," a spokesperson said Tuesday.
He added that Gayatri Parivar, which commands millions of members
mostly in northern and western India, had urged the elderly not to
visit Haridwar but many chose to do so.
The event also marked the centenary celebrations of the group's
founder, Pandit Sitaram Sharma.
Among those expected to attend the event were the chief ministers
of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh,
anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and the Tibetan spiritual
leader the Dalai Lama.
The families of those killed are expected to get Rs.5 lakh each as
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his grief and announced
Rs.1 lakh for the families of those killed and Rs.50,000 for each
of the injured. Uttarakhand Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri and
Gayatri Parivar organisation also offered compensation of Rs.2
lakh to the kin of each of those killed.
Gayatri Parivar head Pranav Pandya, while announcing the
compensation, also accepted "moral responsibility" for the
The event, originally set to end Thursday, will now conclude