An injured arrives in an ambulance at the Sikandrarao hospital in Hathras district about 350 kilometers on Tuesday, July 2, 2024.

Nearly 100 people were crushed to death at a Hindu religious gathering in northern India on Tuesday, July 2, with many others injured, a senior government official said.

A large crowd had gathered near the city of Hathras for a sermon by a popular preacher but a fierce dust storm sparked panic as people were leaving. Many were crushed or trampled, falling on top of each other, with some collapsing into a roadside drain in the chaos.

“We have confirmed 97 deaths so far and are focusing on providing relief and medical aid for the victims,” Chaitra V., divisional commissioner of Aligarh city in Uttar Pradesh state, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The attendees were exiting the venue when a dust storm blinded their vision, leading to a melee and the subsequent tragic incident,” she said.

Most of the dead were women, according to state chief medical officer Umesh Kumar Tripathi, who told reporters that “many injured” had been admitted to hospital. Lines of ambulances carried the injured to hospitals.

Wailing women and crying men gathered outside one mortuary in the town of Etah, where many of the dead were taken, seeking news of their relatives.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a compensation package of $2,400 to the next of kin of those who died and $600 to those injured in the “tragic incident.” “My condolences are with those who have lost their loved ones… I wish for the speedy recovery of all the injured,” Modi wrote on the social media platform X.

Grim track record

President Droupadi Murmu said the deaths were “heart-rending” and offered her “deepest condolences.”

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath also “expressed condolences” to the relatives of those killed, his office said. “He has directed the district administration officials to immediately take the injured to the hospital… and to speed up the relief work at the spot,” it said. Adityanath’s office said an investigation had been ordered into deaths.

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Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses at places of worship. The biggest religious festivals in India prompt millions of devotees to make pilgrimages to holy sites.

Le Monde with AFP

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