UP ashram stampede kills 63

Victims include 37 children, over 200 injured; Mayawati orders probe

UP ashram stampede kills 63

Village women mourn after a stampede at an ashram  in Kunda, 180 kilometers (112 miles) southeast of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. AP

The stampede occurred when the huge gate of the ashram fell down trapping hundreds of people beneath it, the police said. Subsequently, people started running away and fell over each other.

While the feast was going on inside the ashram, hundreds of others waited outside to gain entry, creating pressure on the gate, officials said. They said the gate “perhaps could not withstand the pressure and gave in, trapping people beneath it”.

While Brijlal, Additional Director General of Police, confirmed 63 deaths, eye witnesses said the toll could go up as several people were feared trapped under the gate.

Those killed included 37 children, officials said, adding that over 200 people, who were injured in the incident, were rushed to hospitals in Pratapgarh and Allahabad. Many of them are stated to be in a critical condition.

The Ram Janaki Temple, which houses the ashram of Kripaluji Maharaj, is spread over six hectares and about 20,000 people had assembled there on Thursday to take part in a “bhandara” (religious feast) on the occasion of “shraddh”  of Kripaluji’s wife. “There was a huge rush of devotees at the ashram where fruits, food, clothes and utensils were being distributed among the people”, Brijlal told reporters in Lucknow.

“The ritual is organised every year during Holi and devotees and common people take part in it”, an ashram official said.

There were two gates at the ashram, but the gate of the main building was closed when the inmates saw the huge rush of devotees. Enraged over the incident, people in large numbers assembled outside the ashram and shouted slogans against the ashram administration. Security personnel have been deployed in the area to maintain law and order.

Pratapgarh district magistrate Ashok Kumar said many children and women were reported “missing” after the incident and efforts were on to trace them. He said the district administration had nothing to do with the arrangement at the ashram and it was purely a religious programme. In Lucknow, cabinet secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh said Chief Minister Mayawati had ordered an inquiry and has also sent two state ministers to supervise relief operations, he said.

Some ashram officials, including Kripaluji Maharaj, are untraceable. The ashram administration has announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 each to the next of the kin of those killed and Rs  10,000 to the injured.

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