Lucknow (AFP) March 4, 2010
Sixty-three people, all of them women and children, were crushed to death in a stampede on Thursday at a temple in northern India where a crowd had gathered for a religious festival.
The stampede was triggered when an under-construction gate collapsed on the crowd as people surged forward to collect free food and clothes from a local holy man in northern Uttar Pradesh state, police said
"We have now counted all the bodies and they include 37 children and 26 women who had come to collect free gifts," assistant superintendent of police S.P. Pathak told AFP by phone from the disaster site.
The accident occured at the Hindu Ram Janki temple in Pratapgarh, 650 kilometres (400 miles) southeast of New Delhi, where up to 10,000 devotees of holy man Swami Kripaluji Maharaj had gathered, police said.
According to his website, the Maharaj runs a charitable trust which sets up schools, temples and hospitals and operates five large ashrams (hermitages), including one in the United States.
Stampedes at religious events in India are common as large numbers of excited worshippers pack into congested areas. Panic can spread quickly and, with few safety regulations in place, the result is often lethal.
The deadliest recent incident was in October 2008 when about 220 people died near a temple inside Jodhpur's famous Mehrangarh Fort.
More than 25,000 worshippers had rushed towards the hill-top shrine to join in an auspicious moment for offering prayers at the start of Navaratri, a nine-day Hindu festival.
That stampede appeared to have started when a wall along the narrow path leading up to the temple collapsed, killing several people.
Hundreds of people were trampled and suffocated to death in the ensuing panic.
Pilgrimages and festivals are a part of daily life in India and the vast majority of Indians, across the entire social spectrum, will participate regularly.
The choice is vast, as is the size of crowds, which can range from just several hundred pilgrims to the tens of millions who flock to the massive Kumbh Mela festivals at the confluence of the holy Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
In most cases, crowd management measures are rudimentary, or even non-existent, and police action has often been blamed for exacerbating panic when things go wrong.
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