What caused the deadly stampede in Hathras, India?

At least 120 people died in a crowd crush during a religious gathering with Hindu guru Bhole Baba.

At least 121 people, the vast majority of them women, have died in a crowd crush on Tuesday in India’s Hathras district, at a religious gathering for the Hindu guru, Bhole Baba.

Here is all we know about the incident which took place on Tuesday afternoon:

What happened in Hathras?

A large crowd of 250,000 devotees of the religious leader Suraj Pal, also known as Bhole Baba, gathered for a satsang – prayer meeting – in a village in Hathras on Tuesday. About 80,000 of them had been allowed to enter a field serving as the main venue for the prayer meeting.

Many people had gathered in a makeshift tent where the prayer meeting was taking place, pitched atop muddy terrain.

Bhole is a Dalit, a group of people at the bottom of India’s caste system. Many of his followers are also from so-called “lower castes”, and are female or poor.

Chaos erupted when Bhole got off stage and left the tent to get into his car after the prayer meeting.

Scores of people rushed out of the tent towards his car, trampling each other, in a bid to touch his feet or the ground he had walked on, according to a police report filed afterwards.

Many people were killed in the crush, suffocating to death. Some also fell into an adjacent mud field and were crushed there.

Who are the victims?

  • Some 121 people were killed, Sandip Kumar Singh Lodhi, Uttar Pradesh (UP) state’s minister for education confirmed on Wednesday.
  • More than 80 others were injured and admitted to hospitals, said senior police officer Shalabh Mathur.
  • Among those dead are 112 women, said UP’s police chief Prashant Kumar.
  • Seven children have also been reported dead as a result of the incident so far, Manoj Kumar Singh, UP’s chief secretary, told local media.

Where exactly did this happen?

  • The crowd crush took place in a paddy field serving as the venue for the religious gathering, next to a busy highway in the Hathras district in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, about 200km (125 miles) southeast of the national capital, New Delhi.
  • Uttar Pradesh is known for its religious and cultural heritage, and is also a microcosm of India’s religious divide between Hindus and Muslims. The Ram Temple was consecrated early this year in the state’s Ayodhya city, about 500km (311 miles) southeast of Hathras.


Why did the stampede in Hathras happen?

Experts say the stampede was partly the result of poor preparations for the religious gathering by the event organisers and lack of expertise from the authorities.

Dr AP Pradeepkumar, professor of the department of Geology at the University of Kerala is co-author of the paper, Human stampedes during religious festivals: A comparative review of mass gathering emergencies in India.

He said: “The National Disaster Response Force in India is not staffed enough for controlling stampede-like situations”.

He also explained that the lack of preparedness for overcrowded religious congregations and events in India can be attributed to a lack of detailed planning and coordination, limited facilities, budget issues and even societal and religious pressure to hold religious events, among other things.

Sanjay Srivastava, a disaster management expert at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS University, said: “There is far too much leeway given to private religious bodies in terms of their ability to organise public events.

“The government bodies that are responsible for public safety: police, fire brigade and medical authorities … are frequently over-ruled by politicians who seek to use religious gurus and their organisations as possible vote banks.”

According to experts, other key factors contributing to the tragedy of Tuesday were:

Overcrowding: The police had allowed 80,000 people to enter the venue for the gathering, which saw a total turnout of about 250,000, according to a police report filed after the incident. It is unclear how many among these were inside the tent.

Lack of exits: Disaster management experts have speculated that the lack of an adequate number of exits in the tent caused thousands to try to cram through one exit. “The function was held in a makeshift tent without ensuring multiple exit routes. Typically, there should be eight to 10 well-marked exits opening into open areas,” said Sanjay Srivastava, a disaster management expert who spoke to the AP. The event organised by Bhole Baba’s Sri Jagar Guru Baba organisation had been two weeks in the planning, it was reported.

Slippery mud: It was also reported that many people slipped on the muddy field in the gathering venue, contributing to the crush. Witnesses reported that it also began to rain on the already humid day, which caused people to slip and fall.

People walk on a field, where believers had gathered for a Hindu religious congregation following which a stampede occurred, in Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh
People walk on a field where the satsang headed by Bhole Baba took place [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

How have authorities responded?

  • The police have registered a First Information Report against the organisers.
  • The authorities do not know where Bhole Baba is, and police have launched a search.
Police officers walk at the site where believers had gathered for a Hindu religious congregation
Police officers walk at the stampede site in Hathras [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]
  • UP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath arrived in Hathras on Wednesday to meet the victims’ families.
  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on X on Tuesday: “My thoughts are with those bereaved in Hathras. Prayers with the injured. The UP Government is working to assist those affected.”

Have crowd crushes happened in India before?

  • Crowd crushes are fairly common in India and many of them have occurred at religious gatherings.
  • In January 2022, 12 people died and more were injured after a crush at Jammu and Kashmir’s Vaishno Devi temple. The crowd had tried to go inside the shrine through its narrow entrance.
  • In October 2013, about 115 people were killed and more than 100 were injured during a Navratri celebration at the Ratangarh temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. The crowd comprised at least 150,000 people. Navratri is a nine-day celebration of the Goddess Durga.
  • In February 2013, more than 100 million Hindu pilgrims gathered in Uttar Pradesh for the Kumbh Mela over two months. On the busiest day, at least 36 pilgrims were killed in a crowd crush at a train station, prompting the resignation of festival organiser Mohammed Azam Khan “on moral grounds”.
  • In March 2010, at least 63 people were killed in a crush triggered by a rush for free rations at a Hindu temple in Uttar Pradesh. Half of those killed were children.
  • In September 2008, 250 people were killed in a crowd crush at the Chamundagar temple in Rajasthan during Navratri celebrations.
  • In August 2008, rumours of a landslide triggered a crowd crush at the mountaintop Naina Devi temple in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, killing about 145 Hindu pilgrims.
  • In January 2005, more than 265 Hindu devotees died following a crush caused by slippery steps at the Mandhardevi temple in Maharashtra.
Source: Al Jazeera