Critical density

The stampede at Sabarimala that left around 102 people dead is the outcome of our refusal to learn from past mistakes. Stampedes occur with shocking regularity at places of pilgrimage in this country. Sabarimala itself is no stranger to stampedes having experienced a deadly one in 1999 when 53 pilgrims watching the ‘makara jyoti’ were crushed to death. Yet, neither the government nor temple authorities did anything to make the pilgrimage safe. They did not put in place minimum measures for efficient crowd control. That just a handful of policemen, doctors and officials formed the administration team at Pulumedu to take care of 300,000 pilgrims indicates how unimportant the wellbeing of pilgrims is for the government and temple authorities. What is the Kerala government’s excuse for ignoring the high court’s orders for better management of the pilgrimage? Why was a jeep allowed onto a narrow road on which tens of thousands of people were making their descent after sighting the ‘makara jyoti’? People have been visiting Sabarimala for centuries. Yet, it lacks proper roads or communication facilities, even toilets or drinking water. Crisis management teams are an essential part of controlling crowds. There was no such team at Sabarimala.

A feature common to all stampede situations is that the number of people at the site far exceeds what it can reasonably accommodate. Common sense dictates that measures to restrict the number of people that visit temples and other sites that seem prone to stampedes are essential. But police officials claim it is difficult to impose restrictions at places of worship, while temple authorities say it is unfair to exclude devotees from visiting on certain ‘auspicious’ days. Unfair it might be but restricting the numbers is essential to prevent stampedes. Crowd control at Tirumala, while not perfect or even fair given that it favours the rich and the influential, has enabled devotees to worship in a reasonably safe environment. Sabarimala and other temples have lessons to learn from the TTD’s measures.

Myths surrounding the ‘celestial’ nature of the ‘makara jyoti’ draw millions of credulous pilgrims to Sabarimala. The faith of these pilgrims, the difficult journey they undertake is truly amazing. The Sabarimala temple is the second richest in the country, thanks to the generosity of pilgrims. The least that temple authorities can do is to spend a fraction of this amount to put in place measures to make their pilgrimage safe.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry