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Over 120 people dead at ‘Bhole Baba’ Satsang in Hathras: Deadliest stampedes in recent history, what causes them and how to prevent them

On 2nd June, a tragic incident happened in Uttar Pradesh where over 120 devotees attending a ‘Satsang’ died in a stampede. The incident took place during the Satsang (religious gathering) for a self-styled Godman who goes by various aliases ‘Bhole Baba’ aka Narayan Sakar Hari or Sakaar Vishwa Hari. He is said to be close to several politicians including Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav who has in the past attended his Satsang and hailed him.

Reports suggest that though permission was taken for the event, the number of attendees was several folds more than the administration permitted for. When the Satsang was over the devotees rushed to collect soil from under Narayan Sakar Hari’s feet as he left the stage. Amidst the rush, chaos happened leading to a stampede that caused over 120 deaths. The death toll may rise further.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has initiated an inquiry into the matter and sought a report within 24 hours. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was informed about the incident during his ‘Motion of Thanks’ speech in the Lok Sabha. He paused his speech and expressed condolences for the families of the deceased and assured them all support would be provided.

While this is one of the deadliest stampede that has happened in India, history shows that such incidents often happen across the world. Here is a list of some of the deadliest stampedes in India and worldwide.

The 2022 stampede of Seoul, South Korea

In October 2022, on the night of Halloween, around 1,00,000 people gathered to celebrate the festival in the narrow streets of Itaewon district of Seoul, South Korea. The victims were crushed as the crowd surged and soon the sea of individuals collapsed. Over 158 people lost their lives and over 500 were reported injured.

The 2022 stampede of Mata Vaishno Devi Mandir

In 2022, on the eve of the New Year, a large number of devotees went to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine to offer prayers and seek blessings leading to a stampede. As per official reports, the stampede occurred due to a massive surge in the devotees. Around 12 people lost their lives and 14 were injured.

Visuals from the Vaishno Devi shrine on New Year, 2022 where 12 people died in a stampede, image via TOI

The 2015 stampede of Hajj, Mecca

In September 2015, thousands of people were crushed during a 10-minute-long stampede at Mecca. Reports suggest that at least 2,411 pilgrims lost their lives during the stampede, 3-times higher than the official number released by Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of pilgrims went missing after the stampede. According to the official report, the stampede occurred when two waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road. Though Saudi Arabia claimed they were prepared for the crowd control and had spent billions for the same, the sheer number of pilgrims made it difficult for the authorities to manage. Among the dead, 120 pilgrims were from India. The highest number of pilgrims (464) who died in the incident were from Iran.

Piles of bodies at the Mina stampede in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2015, image via RT

The 2015 stampede of Pushkaram festival, Andhra Pradesh

In 2015, at least 29 people lost their lives and over 60 were injured in a stampede during the Mahapushkaram festival on the banks of the Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh. The incident took place at around 8 AM at Rajamundry soon after then-Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his family participated in the holy dip. Reports suggest that some of the pilgrims were trying to retrieve their shoes and fell off leading to the stampede. Tens of thousands of people were pushed forward to bathe in the river. It is believed that over 24 million devotees participated in the festival and a small place like Rajahmundry was not prepared enough to manage the crowd.

Godavari Pushkaram stampede in Rajamundry in 2015, images via DNA and Business Standard

2013 stampede of Ratangarh Temple, Madhya Pradesh

In 2013, at least 111 people lost their lives and over 100 were reported injured in a stampede that took place during the Navratri festival near Ratangarh Temple in district Datia of Madhya Pradesh. The stampede was triggered due to a rumour that the bridge that the devotees were trying to cross was about to collapse.

The 2010 stampede of Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambidia

In November 2010, at least 340 people died and hundreds were injured during the Cambodia Water Festival in Phnom Penh. Considered to be one of the most joyful events in the Cambodian calendar, the festival turned into a tragedy at around 10 PM on the third and final day of the Water Festival. 240 casualties were women. Though there were no confirmed reports of how the stampede happened, rumours suggest that a fight broke out between the attendees and police used water cannons to disperse them. It led to people rushing to get away from the site and a stampede happened. According to the doctors, suffocation and electric shock were the two main reasons for the death, however, the government dismissed electrocution as one of the reasons.

Water festival stampede in Cambodia, image via AP

What causes stampede?

Stampedes or crowd crushes are complex events. Several factors add up leading to stampedes. Some of the key causes are as follows.

Overcrowding and Poor Crowd Management

One of the most significant reasons for stampede is overcrowding. In many cases, the number of attendees of an event exceeds the capacity of the venue of the area where the event is happening. It can lead to dangerous situations. Furthermore, poor planning and crowd management add up to the problem.

Panic and Sudden Triggers

Mass panic and sudden triggers often cause stampede. A rumour, loud noise, or an unexpected event may cause people to move abruptly leading stampede. In yesterday’s event at Hathras, a large crowd started rushing to collect the ‘charan dhool’ or dust at the feet of Bhole Baba for their religious belief. As the Baba’s security personnel prevented the crowd from rushing in towards the godman, people piled on each other, some slipped on a slope leading to an open field and the crowd kept rushing in, stepping over fallen persons, causing many victims to suffocate and die. The SDM’s report on the tragic event elaborates on this. The report states that after the confrontation between Baba’s security personnel and the surging crowd rushing towards the godmen, the crowd started running helter-skelter, causing many to fall and get trampled.

SDM’s report of the Hathras stampede event, via Sachin Gupta on X

Inadequate Emergency Response

Slow and inadequate response from the administration and law enforcement agencies can cause stampede.

Poor Communication

In a dense crowd, information moves slowly but rumours travel fast. Lack of awareness and poor communication lead to deadly situations. It can cause continued pushing and movement increasing the risk of getting crushed, especially for those who are not physically well.

Environmental and Structural Issues

Narrow pathways and enclosed spaces also cause stampede especially when the crowd grows beyond the capacity of the space.

How to prevent stampede?

Preventing stampedes involves a combination of effective crowd management, proper event planning, and quick emergency response. Key measures include controlling the number of attendees to prevent overcrowding, designing venues with multiple exits and clear pathways, and ensuring robust communication among event organisers and security personnel. Furthermore, it is essential to educate the people attending the event about the safety protocols. Well-trained emergency response team at the site of the event also helps in reducing the risks.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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