A stampede in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh last week killed about 115 worshipers. Many were devotees visiting the temple on the eve of Dussehra, an important Hindu festival, caught up in the stampede that occurred on the bridge crossing the river Sindh. The tragedy, which left more than 100 pilgrims injured, occurred during the Navratri festivities near the Ratangarh Temple in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Dozens of people were crushed, injured or pushed into the river. Eyewitnesses report that the majority were women and children. Prakash Yadav – a local journalist reporting from the area – told The Diplomat: “The initial statements released by government officials to Indian media said the situation was under control, until the situation got so out of control that many more deaths and injuries consequently occurred.”
It is clear that the Indian police lost control of the situation. According to eyewitnesses, dozens of dead women and children were thrown into the river. Several accounts say it was the police throwing corpses into the river, with one person present telling me that it was an “endeavor to mask the death toll.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
I later spoke to some of the survivors, who painted a horrible picture of the way Indian police officers treated civilian worshipers in the chaos. One witness told me, “We were pushed and shoved to the ground, toppling onto each other, when I saw some police throwing people still alive off the bridge, as if they were wheat sacks being discarded into a dump. These people were alive, not dead. Many of them were children and mothers, wailing and injured. “
Another survivor, Vikram, still in disbelief, recalled, “When an officer in a wardi (uniform) and badge tried throwing my 12-year-old daughter into the river, I grabbed her arm and stopped him, but he kept at it. He tried to scare me and told me he will throw me and others in as well. We screamed at each other, while my daughter screamed in pain.” The police officer did finally throw both of them into the river, but unlike many others, Vikram knew how to swim and was able to save himself and his daughter.
As the police continued to throw people off the bridge, angry devotees reportedly pelted them with stones. At least six police officers were reported injured.
Ginesh, a school teacher who was also there, told The Diplomat, “I would like to urge the media to call for an investigation into the body throwing to if there are any bodies left in the river.”
A report in the Times of India reveals that some policemen went beyond callousness into outright criminality. They “stole money and valuables from the bodies” before tossing them off the bridge. Another report quotes a survivor named Ashish, 15, who told media that policemen pushed him off the bridge when he went to claim the body of his 5-year-old brother. “I fell on my knees and begged the cops to allow me to take my brother’s body home. But they pushed me off the bridge, saying that I too should die,” he is quoted as saying. “When I told them my brother had died, they said that ‘now your brother is dead, why should you live on?” he added.