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Stampede at religious festival in India kills 121

July 3, 2024

(CNN) — Eyewitnesses have recounted scenes of chaos and confusion after a religious festival in northern India ended in tragedy when scores of people were killed in a crowd crush.

At least 121 people died – almost all of them women – and 35 others were injured when overcrowding at a sermon in Mughal Garhi village in Uttar Pradesh led to the deadly crush on Tuesday.

Police said they were investigating the organisers, saying a quarter of a million people arrived at the venue – more than three times the number expected – and just a few dozen police officers had been deployed.

The crush happened as female devotees rushed towards the stage to touch the feet of Bhole Baba, the self-styled godman, or guru, who led the event, according to Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister.

Other officials said devotees were trying to collect ground that his car had passed over as he left the ceremony.

Speaking to CNN from a local hospital, a security guard named Subhash Lal said his mother had died in the crush.

“My mother’s dead body is here (at this hospital)… The most pain you can feel is for a mother, everyone knows that.”

Lal added: “If there was no carelessness then people would not have died like this, whether it’s the administration or organizers, it’s carelessness.”

Personal belongings of victims who died in the crush are seen scattered at the venue in Uttar Pradesh. (Ritesh Shukla/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

The mother of a victim who gave her name as Kamala told Reuters: “My daughter was alright when she arrived at the hospital.

In fact, my daughter served water to other victims, helped them and called my brother informing us that she had made it to the hospital safely.

But by the time my brother reached the hospital, my daughter was dead.”

Describing the chaos at the gathering, a survivor named Rekha told Reuters that the crush had occurred after the preaching had ended, saying: “Anyone who fell did not get up, was trampled by the crowd and died.”

Chedilal, a 65-year-old man whose 30-year-old daughter was killed in the crush, said: “We were together. I saw many dead bodies lying there so I ran to where the buses were parked.

“I looked for her everywhere but I could not find her anywhere, it became night. Where could I go? What could I do?

“I was told to go to the district hospital and here I found her body.”

Relatives of a crush victim mourn next to her body, outside a hospital in Hathras district. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

Uttar Pradesh has launched a special investigative team to probe the deadly crowd crush, the state’s chief minister announced on Wednesday.

A judicial inquiry will also be carried out under the state’s high court, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said.

Adityanath suggested that the organizers were to blame, telling reporters that “the administration assumes that at such a function, internally, the security of devotees would be managed by the organisers.”

“For security, the administration deploys its force as well, but in the outer ring. Inside it is the organizers managing everything,” he said.

Police have been on the hunt for Bhole Baba since the deadly incident and have accused the event’s organisers of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, wrongfully restraining a person, causing the disappearance of evidence or providing false information, according to a police report seen by CNN.

In a statement he shared via his lawyer, Bhole Baba – also known as Suraj Pal – offered condolences to the families of those killed as he blamed the fatal crush on “anti-social elements.”

People walk around the site of the deadly crush on July 3, a day after the incident occurred. (Photo: Ritesh Shukla/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Permission had been sought for an event with 80,000 attendees, but more than 250,000 devotees gathered at the venue, the police report said.

Organisers and officials tried to direct the crowd as thousands attempted to leave and in the ensuing chaos dozens were trampled, it added.

The report alleged that event organisers provided no assistance to the injured and attempted to cover up the incident by hiding the clothes and shoes that people had lost in the crush in a nearby field.

Crowd crushes at religious gatherings in India are not uncommon, and deadly incidents have made headlines in the past, highlighting the lack of adequate crowd control and safety measures.

Crowds gather outside the emergency department at Etah Hospital following a deadly crush at a religious gathering. (Reuters via CNN Newsource)

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