47 Hindus Die in Stampede During Ritual at Ganges
A stampede by thousands of frenzied Hindus rushing to bathe in the sacred Ganges River killed at least 47 pilgrims today, news agency and radio reports said.
The stampede occurred before dawn as millions thronged the city of Hardwar on the banks of the Ganges on the climax of the Khumbh Mela, a religious festival held once every 12 years.
The United News of India said 32 of the dead were women and two were children. In addition to the 47 killed, 39 people were hurt.
The stampede reportedly occurred as police were trying to hold back the crowd pressing against a barricade near a foot bridge leading to the Har-ki Pauri, or steps of God, the holiest bathing site.
Barricade Gave Way
The agency said the barricade gave way and one pilgrim fell, taking a crowd of others down with him.
“The police went on raining (cane) blows on us while we pleaded that we were suffocating,” a wounded pilgrim, Shyam Sunder Buchasia, said. “We said, ‘Let us go or we will die.’ Then suddenly the barricade was loosened.”
Clothes and luggage were strewn over the site where the stampede occurred.
The news agency said the families of two victims filed complaints alleging that police inefficiency led to the stampede.
K.C. Banga, leader of a volunteer organization, said he warned police 30 minutes before the stampede that the crowds were getting out of control. He said there were 20 to 30 policemen at the site who watched helplessly as thousands of pilgrims fell over each other, United News of India reported.
At Hardwar, about 150 miles northeast of New Dehli, the Ganges leaves the Himalayan foothills and enters the plains on its 1,570-mile course to the Bay of Bengal.
500 Died in 1954
At least 500 people were killed in a stampede there in 1954 during a smaller religious festival.
More than 20 million pilgrims are estimated to have worshiped in Hardwar since the three-month festival began Feb. 1, and more than 7 million were expected Sunday and today for the climax of the religious observance.
For Hindus, who make up 83% of India’s 750 million people, bathing in the Ganges is said to give absolution from sin.