Families of India stampede victims ponder future without loved ones


RAMNAGAR, India (AP) — The orange rising from the flames shone a light on the dusk. Savitri Devi, 50, had just been cremated.

Devi was one of more than 120 people killed in a stampede last week at a religious festival in North India, when the faithful flocked to the preacher and chaos broke out among the congregation.

The event was allowed to house only 80,000 people. It is not clear how many people entered the giant tent that was set up in a muddy field in a village in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh state, but it was reported to be about three times the permitted number.

“It was a matter of fate. What has Baba got to do with it?” said Vir Pal Singh of his wife Devi’s death. Singh was a volunteer at the religious gathering. The couple had been followers of the Hindu guru, known locally as Bhole Baba, for more than a decade.

It was not clear what caused the stampede. The prime minister of the state, Yogi Adityanathtold reporters that a crowd rushed to touch the pastor as he came off the stage, and that volunteers struggled to intervene.

An initial police report suggested that thousands of people then rushed to the exits and that many slipped on the muddy ground, falling and being crushed. Most of the dead were women.

The chaos appeared to continue outside the tent as people rushed toward the preacher as he left in a vehicle. His guards pushed the crowd back, causing more people to fall, officials said.

Devi’s daughters Bharti and Sonam were inconsolable. “We are orphans now. Mother has abandoned us. Who will take care of us?” they wailed. Village women held them and mourned together.

“My parents believed that Babaji (the preacher) would lighten all our burdens,” said Ajay Kumar. Kumar, a graduate, said he also went to Baba’s religious gatherings because it became a family tradition.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common during Indian religious festivals, where large groups of people gather in small places with poor infrastructure and few security measures.

The family will dip the ashes in the Ganges River. Hindu belief is that the deceased will find salvation through this act.

When asked if he would like to volunteer at Baba’s religious events in the future, Singh said, “I will decide when the time comes.”

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