Two Haj pilgrims from Bengaluru die amid lethal heatwave in Saudi Arabia

Temperature touches 52°C; Hajis recount horror stories of poor arrangement
Last Updated : 19 June 2024, 20:37 IST

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Bengaluru: Two Bengalureans are among hundreds of Haj pilgrims who died due to an intense heatwave in Saudi Arabia.

At least 922 Haj pilgrims are reported to have died near Islam's holiest site in the last few days as temperatures touched 52 degrees Celsius.

Kausar Rukhsana, a 69-year-old resident of RT Nagar, and 50-year-old Mohammed Ilyas, from Fraser Town, are reported to have died near Mina, a city of tents 8 km southeast of Mecca, on June 17.

Sarfaraz Khan Sardar, Executive Officer of the Karnataka State Haj Committee (KSHC), said the two pilgrims had set out on foot for Mina to perform the symbolic ritual of stoning the devil when they collapsed due to exhaustion and died.

"Walking for three kilometres in such high temperatures was just too much," Sardar told DH. "The pilgrims didn't get the bus from their hotel to travel to Mina. So they decided to walk on foot and complete the rituals as soon as possible."

The Saudi authorities had issued an advisory against stepping out from 9 am to 4 pm, he added.

The two pilgrims were among over 7,000 Bengalureans who travelled to Saudi Arabia this year under the auspices of the KSHC. Overall, 10,300 people from Karnataka performed Haj this year through the committee, with thousands more going via private operators.

Both Ilyas and Rukhsana were accompanied by their spouses, who are reportedly in good health. Their bodies will be laid to rest in the Jannat al-Baqi cemetery as per an agreement between the Indian and Saudi governments, Sardar explained.

He said the ministers B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan and Rahim Khan were planning to write to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to bring the matter to the notice of the Union Minister of Minority Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, and ensure that the remaining pilgrims return home safely.

While deaths during Haj are common, pilgrims described conditions as exceptionally harsh due to the scorching heat and poor arrangements.

Reshma Munavvar, a Bengalurean on her second Haj, recounted the challenges of walking long distances in the sun without adequate shade. "We walked, pouring and drinking water. We somehow survived," she told this newspaper.

She said she saw a male pilgrim dying in sleep and lying in mud at Muzdalifa, about 15 km from Mecca. According to her, tents in Mina were small and toilets weren't cleaned for days. "It was extremely chaotic," she added.

While some of the problems were because of the huge crowd — lakhs of people at the train station waiting to travel to Mina — Reshma said other arrangements "could certainly have been better".

Videos shared on social media showed several exhausted pilgrims lying dead on the streets under the sun. According to Reshma, "most of it is true".

Published 19 June 2024, 20:37 IST

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