Dozens killed in India festival stampede

Women and children among the dead as tragedy mars Dussehra celebrations in public park in Patna in eastern Bihar state.

At least 32 people have been killed and 15 others injured in a stampede during an important Hindu festival in India.

Indian officials said the accident occurred on Friday near a public park in the city of Patna in the eastern Bihar state and that the fatalities were mostly women and children.

Dussehra – a festival during which effigies of the demon king Ravana are burnt to mark the victory of good over evil – draws huge crowds at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna, the administrative capital of Bihar.

“We have information that 32 people including women and children died due to a stampede,” Gupteshwar Pandey, additional director-general of police for Bihar state, told AFP news agency.

“Dozens of people were seriously injured.”

In addition to the dead, at least 15 people were taken to hospital. Police were examining closed-circuit television pictures to determine the cause.

Reports said rumours of a live electricy cable falling on people prompted the stampede, with people rushing towards the exit as they were leaving at the end of the Dussehra celebrations.

Officials were quoted by NDTV as saying that some people fainted during the stampede and were admitted to the Patna Medical College Hospital, which is just two kilometres from the site of the incident.

Television channels quoted a witness as saying there were not enough lights once the ceremony was over.

Government under fire

Politicians cutting across party lines criticised the Bihar government for not taking enough precautions to prevent such incidents during festive time.

Ram Vilas Paswan, federal minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, who belongs to the state of Bihar, said the crowd management was poor and officials failed to stop the disaster even though a gathering of such proportion assembles every year.

“The important thing to note is that how did such a big incident happen and what was the government doing about it. This is not the first time that people were gathered at the venue. Every year people gather to celebrate the Hindu festival of Dussehra. There was lack of security and only one gate was open while there were four gates available. The lives of the people could have been saved if all the gates were open,” Paswan said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the federal minister for information technology and communication, who also belongs to Bihar, criticised the state government for repeatedly being careless towards preventing such incidents.

“In October last year there was an incident during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech when 80 people died. During the Hindu festival of Chhath Puja, similar incidents happened. Dussehra festival comes every year: how did this [tragedy] happen? If someone had sent a rumour, then why wasn’t he stopped? Why where there no arrangements for exit? These are all serious questions on the government,” Prasad said.

Manoj Jha, spokesperson of Rashtriya Janata Dal, a regional party, said the Bihar government did not ensure enough safety measures for the devotees attending the annual event.

“When you invite people – and everybody who came to Gandhi Maidan were invited ones – there should have been enough measures to make sure that there were proper arrangements for safety and security,” Jha said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies