At least 115 pilgrims including children were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede at a temple in Madhya Pradesh. The stampede was allegedly caused by panic after worshipers thought a bridge at the temple was about to collapse.
At least 50 of the victims were apparently crushed to death in the stampede itself, while others drowned in the river after jumping off the bridge, according to local officials, who fear the death toll will rise.
It is not yet clear exactly what caused the panic on the bridge. Sources cited by NDTV claim that a group of people spread the rumor that a bridge was collapsing to cut in line at the temple.
“We have counted 100 bodies so far. Several pilgrims died on way to hospital. The toll may rise manifold,” a senior police officer told the Times of India.
Meanwhile, the Hindustan Times reported eyewitnesses as saying that the stampede started after policemen used their lathi batons to control the crowd.
Some 50,000 Hindu pilgrims were on their way to the Mandula Devi temple to attend a ceremony during an annual festival to the goddess Durga. The temple is 60 kilometers from Datia, the capital of Datia District in Madhya Pradesh state.
Screenshot from AP video
A rescue operation is reportedly taking place at the site, with police recovering dead bodies and sending the injured to hospital.
People upset over the incident and the police’s response reportedly started pelting officers with stones.
Seven years ago, at the same bridge and during the same festival, 35 pilgrims died after being swept away by the unexpected release of water from a dam.
India has a notorious record of stampedes at religious events.
Thirty-six people were killed in a stampede in northern India in February, where millions of pilgrims flocked for a major Hindu festival.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala. A total of 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshipers were trampled to death trying to reach a hilltop temple in the northern town of Jodhpur.
A holy war in India has left tens of thousands of Christians crammed into relief camps, too scared to return home following weeks of clashes with Hindu mobs in which at least 35 people have died.
More than 40,000 Christians have had to flee their homes in Kandhamal district, one of India’s poorest, in the eastern state of Orissa. Their homes have been systematically attacked, looted and burned down by Hindu mobs since the end of August as the local police have looked on helplessly.
“Villagers have threatened to kill me because I am a Christian. They have said I will be welcome back only if I change my religion and become a Hindu,” said Jibit Kumar Digal, 30, who has spent over a month in a relief camp at Baliguda, 200 south west of the provincial capital Bhubaneswar.
Aligned to the radical Hindu Opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the marauding mobs supported by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council, are alleged to have killed Christians by burnign them alive, gang-raped a nun and destroyed over 140 churches and orphanages across Kandhamal.
Namrata, a young Christian villager who was injured in an attack by a Hindu mob
The mob appeared an hour after sunset, armed with axes, clubs and paraffin. The carnage that followed would have been much worse if the Christians of Gadragaon, a remote village in northeast India, had not been warned by text message: “The Hindus are coming to kill you.”
The alert gave most enough time to flee to the jungle, where 114 of them would hide for a week, drinking rainwater and foraging for food.
But the warning did not come early enough for those unable to run. “They doused him with petrol and taunted him; we could hear him screaming,” said Ravindra Nath Prahan, 45, of his paralysed brother, Rasananda, 35, who was burnt alive by Hindu fanatics. “I could have tried to save him. But we had to save ourselves.”