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Temple tragedy: There were two stampedes
Vijay Singh in Satara |
January 26, 2005 19:45 IST
The stampede at the Mandhardevi temple in Wai in Satara district of western Maharashtra on Tuesday afternoon, that left over 300 people dead and hundreds injured, occurred in two waves. The first wave was triggered by an accident and second by pure human insanity.
If the second stampede had not happened -- and it happened almost an hour and a half after the first -- the toll would have been lower, perhaps half of what it is now or even less.
Images: When death visited the temple
It was Shakambari Poornima (Full Moon Day) on Tuesday and tens of thousands of devotees had gathered at the temple to offer oil to Devi and break coconuts at the gate of the temple's sanctum sanctorum. The temple is situated on a hill and the only road leading to it is a narrow, dust track. The last few meters as one approaches the sanctum sanctorum are steps made of stones -- this is where everybody breaks coconuts.
By afternoon on Tuesday, this spot had become extremely slippery. As more and more people, propelled by the swelling crowds behind them, tried to get as close to the temple as possible, some slipped and fell down. This had a cascading effect as more people slipped, tripped and fell on people behind them.
Soon, there was a wave of bodies -- men, women, children -- coming down the stairs. Those who saw this wall rolling down on them, had no option but to turn around and run for their lives -- the narrow path on both sides was lined with makeshift shops selling puja paraphernalia and eatables.
Related report: 'The dead and the injured were lying in heaps'
Those who could make it, escaped downhill. But as they ran down, they were separated from their near and dear ones. Mothers separated from children; men from their wives; brothers from their sisters.
Nobody has any estimates at this stage, but a large number of people died in this stampede. The madness lasting around 20-25 minutes, again only a rough estimate.
The temple staff, a few policemen and some survivors got down to work immediately. They separated the dead from the injured and began administering first-aid to those who were still breathing. They also began making arrangements to send those injured down. A few injured were sent down on make-shift stretchers made of sarees offered to the Devi.
An hour-and-a-half passed. The word had by now spread down the hill and in the village of the tragedy at the temple. The injured sent down were vivid pictures of what had happened.
People began coming back to look for their family and relatives. What they saw was no doubt shocking -- bodies lined near the temple, mutilated, smeared with blood and dust, most of them covered partially with green sarees. However, the manner in which they reacted was even more shocking.
Earlier report: At least 350 killed in Satara stampede
They began pelting stones on the shopkeepers. Some stalls were set afire and that led to blasts of cooking gas cylinders in a few eateries.
Now began the second stampede, by some estimates far worse than the first. This time people were not only trying to run away from each other, they were also trying to escape fiery flames leaping at them.
According to some eyewitness accounts, people were not allowed to go near the bodies and that angered them.
Whatever may have led to the rioting and arson and the resultant stampede, it was clearly a tragedy compounded by, tragically, the victims themselves.
There have been some allegations of some outsiders being involved in the arson and rioting. Nobody knows what these outsiders are being defined as -- people from other states or people from another town.
Questions have also been raised on security arrangements. Were there any cops present at the temple? If yes, how many of them? And, most important, what did they do to deal with the situation.
There have been allegations that the cops were the first to desert the devotees when the stampede started. However, this charge does not hold water when one counts the number of cops injured in the melee.
How many of them were there? That question will have to be answered by the administration sooner or later.