India Stampede: Controversy Over Cause Lingers


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Reports continue to roll out, updating available information on the Sunday stampede in India that killed at least 115 people. According to an AFP journalist, recovery operations to locate bodies have finished and police investigators are now examining the location of the tragedy.

The incident was sparked at the end of the Hindu Navaratri Festival when pilgrims started across a bridge over the Sindh river, leaving the festival, and a rumor that the bridge was going to collapse prompted a stampede. At the time of the stampede, an estimated 20,000 people were on the bridge. Authorities say up to 400,000 worshipers were near the temple as the stampede started.

The site, in the town of Ratangarh in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, apparently witnessed another stampede seven years ago in which 50 were killed.

Medical professionals are said to be working on ten more casualties, classified as critically ill at last report.

Eyewitness accounts describe the chaos. Manoj Sharma, a survivor, reported to the Times of India, "People were jumping off the bridge to save themselves, but they could not swim against the tide. I also saw children being tossed from the bridge, only to be washed away." Mothers were reported as jettisoning their children into the river in an attempt to save them from being trampled.

The actual cause of the stampede is part of the controversy, as some report that rather than rumors of a collapsing bridge, the stampede was prompted when people tried to cut in line as police wielded batons to subdue them. An additional possible catalyst, police forcing people out of the path of a political leader, is prompting calls for resignations and causing nerves among elected officials ahead of upcoming elections.

"There were safety measures in place, this is an annual event," reported the state's home minister, Uma Shankar Gupta. "We don't yet have information on how this happened, as our focus is on the rescue effort."

[Image via YouTube.]