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65 killed in Uttar Pradesh ashram stampede
Lucknow, March 4 (IANS/Agencies)
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Published on 5 Mar. 2010 12:21 AM IST
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The promise of a free lunch and gift of utensils proved to be a fatal lure Thursday when 65 women and children were killed and 64 others were injured in a stampede that broke out when thousands gathered at an Uttar Pradesh ashram for a death anniversary ceremony. The tragedy occurred around noon, when the gate of Kripaluji Maharaj’s ashram near Kunda town in Pratapgarh district, about 180 km from here, caved in under the physical pressure of surging crowds gathered to receive gifts from the ashram head. The collapse of the gate triggered a stampede that turned the place into a veritable graveyard. “Sixty-three bodies have been recovered but more casualties cannot be ruled out as some of the injured are serious and rushed to the Allahabad medical college for specialised treatment,” Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Brij Lal said. The state government confirmed that all the dead were women and children. “The dead include 26 women and 37 children,” state Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh told reporters here. The tragedy, one of the worst stampedes in the state in recent years, occurred when thousands of followers gathered at the Bhakti Dham ashram to attend the annual ‘bhandara’ (free lunch) Kripaluji Maharaj hosts on the anniversary of his wife’s death. Although the event is an annual feature since Kripaluji’s wife died a few years ago, the crowds swelled this time because of a prior announcement that utensils would also be distributed to the poor during the anniversary lunch. “Thousands of disciples of the godman had made a beeline for the ashram to attend the ‘bhandara’ and to get freebies like clothes and utensils when the gate suddenly gave way, bringing under its weight a number of people,” Lal said. “People ran helter-skelter in panic, leading to a stampede, that took a heavier toll, turning the whole place into a mass graveyard,” he added. Pratapgarh chief development officer Ashok Kumar said: “The crowds became unmanageable as the narrow gate gave way. But what followed was worse as there was a stampede, trampling upon women and children in particular.” “Apparently, the organisers had not foreseen the crowds that the event would draw,” Kumar told IANS over phone. Some devotees alleged that the situation turned worse when the police used batons to disperse the crowds. Rescue parties were rushed by the state from Allahabad while a top official was flown from Lucknow to personally take stock of the situation and report to Chief Minister Mayawati. Kripaluji Maharaj could not be contacted, as he was stated to be “busy supervising the relief work”. But legislator of Kunda Raghuraj Pratap Singh, better known as Raja Bhaiya, claimed that the godman had slipped out of the ashram within minutes of the tragedy. “I have nothing against the Swami, but this act of sneaking out of the place at a time when such a major tragedy has struck, is unpardonable and deserves to be condemned in the strongest words,” Raja Bahiya said. Chief minister Mayawati has ordered a high-level probe into the incident.

 
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