At least 24 people, mostly women, have lost their lives and many others have been injured in a stampede ahead of a Hindu religious ceremony in northern India.
The deadly incident occurred when thousands of followers of Baba Jai Gurudev, a controversial guru who died four years ago, tried to simultaneously cross the RajghatBridge between the cities of Varanasi and Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous province in India, on Saturday.
The people were on their way to the village of Domri on the banks of the Ganges River to participate in religious camping for the next two days.
According to police chief Javeed Ahmed, a man died on the bridge due to suffocation caused by the rushing crowds, which accordingly hampered the flow of people on the bridge and made a commotion. The chaos was further fueled when rumors spread that the bridge was about to collapse, he added.
“They had sought permission for 5,000 persons but many more people reached and joined the procession. We are investigating crowd management and will take action against those responsible,” Ahmed said. Reports say as many as 70,000 people were present in the procession.
The organizers of the ceremony said that they had not been “prepared” for such an enormous crowd.
Officials said the situation in Chandauli was being monitored, adding that an investigation would be launched into the incident.
TV footage showed clothing and slippers of the dead piled up on the bridge.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently in the western city of Goa for a meeting of BRICS, said in a message posted on Twitter that he was “deeply saddened by the loss of lives,” extending his condolences to the bereaved.
Stampedes are fairly common during religious festivals in the populous country. In October 2013, a stampede in the central province of Madhya Pradesh claimed the lives of over 110 people, mostly women and children.