Outrage in India as death toll in temple stampede hits 115
By Rachel O'Brien, AFPRATANGARH, India -- Outrage mounted in India Monday after at least 115 devotees were crushed to death or drowned near a Hindu temple, the site of another deadly stampede only seven years ago.
October 15, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
As survivors of Sunday's tragedy on a bridge recounted how desperate mothers threw their children into the water below, authorities came under fire over policing levels amid claims the panic was aggravated by baton-charging.
Medics were also battling to save the lives of 10 people classified as critically ill after the stampede in the town of Ratangarh in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
“The death toll has now gone up to 115 and more than 110 injured,” deputy police inspector general D. K. Arya told AFP.
“Ten of those are in a very critical state.”
An AFP journalist at the site said the operation to recover the bodies had been finished and police investigators were now scouring the site.
Police said the panic had been sparked by rumors that the bridge was about to collapse.
Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple when the stampede took place while there were around 20,000 people on the bridge which spans the river Sindh.
The disaster comes only seven years after another stampede outside the same temple when more than 50 people were crushed to death while crossing the river, after which authorities built the bridge.
“Cops learnt no lessons from 2006 stampede,” read a headline in The Hindustan Times, saying the tragedy “underlines the sheer ineptitude of the authorities responsible for the safety and security” of devotees.
Manoj Sharma, one of the survivors, described a scene of utter mayhem.
“People were jumping off the bridge to save themselves, but they could not swim against the tide. I also saw children being tossed from the bridge, only to be washed away,” he told the Times of India.
Man Singh, a fruit seller who had set up shop near the temple, told how people caught up in the crush in the bridge tried to save themselves with the clothes of some of the female victims.
“Some pulled sarees off the bodies, making ropes out of them, and tried to lower themselves into the river but they weren't able to save themselves and ended up drowning as the river was flowing fast,” Singh told AFP.
Singh also cast doubt on the official toll, saying some survivors had already left with the bodies of their loved ones before rescue services arrived.
Another survivor told the CNN-IBN news channel that the police had charged into the crowds, wielding baton sticks known as lathis.
“There was a huge crowd and the police started lathi-charge. It caused panic and the people were killed,” the unnamed witness told the network.
Arya however denied that the police employed such tactics.
“One would be stupid to use lathis (truncheon) on a crowd which was 25,000 strong,” he said.
“That would have also led to a frenzy and a bloodbath because people would have jumped off the bridge. These reports are absolutely ridiculous,” Arya said.