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India launches investigation after 121 people die in stampede

More than 250,000 took part in a religious rally that resulted in mass deaths, according to police

India is investigating the circumstances in which a religious event in Uttar Pradesh state turned deadly on Tuesday, when 121 people were killed in a stampede.

A police case commenced on Wednesday against the organizers of the event in Hathras district, where self-styled Hindu preacher Narayan Sakar Harial, known to his followers as Bhole Baba, delivered a sermon. 

The organizers sought permission for a gathering of around 80,000 people but it is believed that 250,000 attended the event, according to Indian media. Most of the attendees appeared to be women, many of whom were carrying children. 

The police report alleges that the crowd left the venue in an uncontrolled manner, resulting in people who were sitting on the ground being crushed. The First Information Report (FIR) also claims that the organizers had tried to conceal the actual attendance figures. Hundreds of thousands had also turned up at events hosted by the same spiritual leader in the past, according to reports.

Meanwhile, Bhole Baba, whose real name is reported by some media outlets as Saurabh Kumar, has not been named in the report. According to India Today, the preacher has millions of followers across India, including in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Delhi. He reportedly served as a constable with the Uttar Pradesh police for around 18 years and then quit his job to seek “spiritual enlightenment.”

According to the Hindustan Times, he is only seen in public in formal white clothes and is often accompanied by his wife at sermons. Last week, he held a similar event in the Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh. Bhole Baba, who has not been seen since the stampede, is being sought by police, India Today noted.

Reports have suggested that hundreds of devotees chased after him as he left the venue on Tuesday in an effort to collect dust from under his feet. This led to a deadly crush in which people were trampled.

In a video posted on X (formerly Twitter), a car can be seen leaving the venue, followed by hundreds of people. According to the police report, some organizers armed with sticks attempted to stop the followers.

Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of the state, visited Hathras on Wednesday to meet with officials and survivors of the stampede. “We will find out whether it was an accident or a conspiracy,” he told the news agency ANI. 

Meanwhile, public interest litigation has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the appointment of an expert committee to investigate the incident.

The tragedy has also triggered a political storm in the state, with several opposition parties claiming it occurred because of the government’s “negligence.”

“Despite having a lot of information about the event, the government did not take enough precautionary measures,” said Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the opposition Samajwadi Party. “Many lives could have been saved.” 

Adityanath has condemned the “politicization” of the issue, describing it as “unfortunate.”

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July 03, 2024 at 04:41PM

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