Hathras stampede: No lessons learnt from the past

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

The recent stampede at a religious congregation in Hathras -- that claimed over 120 innocent lives -- should not be seen in isolation. At least 2,000 people have died in stampedes over the last 20 years at various religious sites and gatherings across India. These tragedies are avoidable provided the authorities are serious and organisers are efficient.


But, in the lastest tragic incident in Uttar Pradesh, the satsang organisers failed several counts — from anticipating the magnitude of the crowd to having adequate exit points and medical arrangements. Holding the 'satsang' under a tent amid oppressive humid weather conditions and with grounds slippery from the rains that had turned the paddy fields into sludge, was a foolish decision, to say the least.


Secondly, both the organisers and the local authorities should have anticipated the size of the gathering -- some say 2.5 lakh against an estimate of 80,000 -- rather than cutting a sorry figure for the loss of so many lives.


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath rushed to the spot to get a first hand account of the shocking incident. He ordered a judicial inquiry by a retired High Court judge. There’s already a PIL in the Allahabad High Court seeking a CBI probe. But, all said and done, the key organiser isn’t named in the FIR. And, the reality is there’s barely any report of legal closure of any such tragedy. 


After the usual sound and fury, the authorities have promised compensation and investigation, but that is not something new. Patterns repeat themselves in every such accident. A case has been filed against close aides of the godman -- who goes by the names of Bhole Baba and Narayan Sakaar Hari -- at the centre of the satsang. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been named in the FIR. This raises intriguing questions, given that there are several other cases pending against him. The offenders must be brought to book.


Stampedes, like the one in Hathras, are not new. Many recent accidents have occurred because similar failure to enforce safety protocols. In 2003, as many as 39 pilgrims died and 140 others were injured at Kumbh Mela in Nashik, Maharashtra. In 2005, some 340 people lost their lives at Mandhar Devi temple in Satara, Maharashtra. Then in 2008, a stampede at Naina Devi temple in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, left 162 dead and 47 injured. The same year, 250 people were killed and over 60 hurt at Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur city in Rajasthan.


As many as 63 people lost their lives at Ram Janki Temple of Kripalu Maharaj in Pratapgarh district, Uttar Pradesh, in 2010. A year later, 20 pilgrims were killed and as many injured in Haridwar at Har-ki-Pauri ghat on the banks of the Ganges. Twenty more people died in Patna the following year after a makeshift bridge caved in at Adalat Ghat.


In 2013, some 115 people died and over 100 were injured near Ratnagarh temple in Datia district, Madhya Pradesh. The very next year, 32 people were killed in a stampede at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. In 2015, a stampede on the banks of the Godavari river in Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh left 27 people dead. On the New Year day in 2022, 12 people died and as many were wounded at Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.


Just last year, Ram Navami celebrations turned deadly at a temple in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, when the roof of a stepwell collapsed, unable to bear the weight of visitors who had gathered there.


Thus, stampedes are nothing new -- whether in the rush for a holy dip, or slippery steps to temples, or as in the case of Hathras. Moreover, there is a deep-set belief that stampedes can’t be stopped. But what can be stopped is shoddy crowd management and playing dirty politics with human misery. Unfortunately, blame game has started over the Hathras calamity and knives are already out in political quarters.



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