Authorities Blame Overcrowding and Lack of Exits for Deadly Stampede at Indian Religious Festival

Authorities say severe overcrowding and a lack of exits contributed to a deadly stampede at a religious festival in India, leaving at least 121 people dead. The incident occurred as devotees surged towards a preacher, causing chaos.

Five more people died on Wednesday morning, according to local official Manish Chaudhry. Twenty-eight others remained hospitalized.

Deadly stampedes are a recurring problem at religious festivals in India, often due to large crowds gathered in small spaces with inadequate infrastructure and safety measures.

An estimated 250,000 people attended the event on Tuesday, far exceeding the permitted capacity of 80,000. It is unclear how many managed to enter the massive tent erected in a muddy field in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh.

The exact cause of the panic remains unclear. However, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, told reporters that a rush towards the preacher as he descended from the stage led to the stampede. Volunteers struggled to control the crowd.

An initial police report suggests thousands of people crowded the exits. Many slipped on the muddy ground, resulting in falls and being crushed by the crowd. Most of the victims were women.

The chaos reportedly extended outside the tent as followers again rushed towards the preacher, known locally as Bhole Baba, as he departed in a vehicle. Security personnel pushed back the crowd, causing further falls, according to officials.

Authorities are investigating the incident and searching for Bhole Baba and other organizers, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Binod Sokhna, who lost his mother, daughter, and wife in the stampede, wept as he left a morgue on Wednesday.

“My son called me and said, ‘Papa, mother is no more. Come here immediately.’ My wife is no more,” he said, sobbing.

Bhole Baba’s Sri Jagar Guru Baba organization had spent over two weeks preparing for the event.

Devotees from across Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with over 200 million people, traveled to the village, with rows of parked vehicles stretching for nearly 2 miles.

State official Ashish Kumar confirmed insufficient exits in the vast tent. The exact number of exits remains unclear.

Experts deemed the event a violation of safety regulations. “The function was held in a makeshift tent without ensuring multiple exit routes,” said Sanjay Srivastava, a disaster management expert.

On Tuesday, hundreds of relatives gathered at local hospitals, wailing in grief as they saw the dead bodies placed on stretchers and covered in white sheets outside. Buses and trucks transported dozens of victims to morgues.

Sonu Kumar, one of many local residents who helped move the dead bodies, criticized the preacher: “He sat in his car and left. And his devotees here fell one upon another.”

“The screams were so heart-wrenching. We have never seen anything like this before in our village,” Kumar added.

In 2013, a similar tragedy occurred during a Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh. Pilgrims visiting a temple trampled one another amidst fears that a bridge would collapse. At least 115 people died in the crush or drowned in the river.

Another stampede took place in 2011 during a religious festival in Kerala, claiming the lives of over 100 people.