At least ten people have been killed and dozens of others injured in a stampede during a Hindu religious gathering in Bangladesh yesterday, police said.
All the victims were aged over 50 years, and seven were women. Around 30 people were injured in the incident at Narayanganj, around 12 miles from the capital, Dhaka, police official Mohammad Jakaria said.
He said the accident happened in Langalbandh, a Hindu pilgrimage spot on the banks of the Brahmaputra river.
The annual religious bathing ritual in Bangladesh’s Narayanganj district draws thousands of Hindus from Bangladesh and also neighbouring India and Nepal.
The incident happened during the Astami Snan, or holy bath, one of the largest annual Hindu ceremonies in Bangladesh.
Nikhil Chandra Das, a devotee, said the accident happened after rumours spread that a bridge at the festival site had collapsed and people started running in panic.
Mr Das blamed local authorities for not controlling the crowds.
“Had there been enough volunteers or police, the incident could have been avoided,” he said. The 16 quays used for the ritual bathing were unable to cope with so many devotees, police told local news.
Police inspector Nasir Ahmed said:“The stampede involved a huge number of people as thousands of shoes could still be seen on the road an hour after it happened,” he added.
As the bridge rumour spread, thousands of people crowded on to a narrow pathway that led to one of the riverside platforms used for bathing, crushing three men and seven women underfoot, according to police superintendent Khandekar Mahid Uddin.
Mr Uddin said that the authorities could not determine how large the crowd was yesterday but that it was larger than usual, possibly more than one million people, because the festival fell during a holiday weekend in Bangladesh.
He said the crush may have been exacerbated by a sense of urgency, since the pilgrims aim to bathe during an auspicious time period, which this year lasted for only 12 hours.
“There was a rush from the devotees,” Mr Uddin said. “Also, though the bridge had not collapsed, the rumour spread a feeling of fear.”
Kajal Debnath, the president of the Puja Observation Committee of Bangladesh, a Hindu religious organisation, said many Hindus believe that if they bathe in the early morning hours, they will be cleansed of their sins.
Mr Debnath complained that businessmen had seized space along the route taken by the pilgrims to build shops, rendering it very narrow. Some of those attending said there were not enough ambulances or police officers to ensure safety.
However, officials say at least 700 police officers were on duty but their task was made harder because of the number of people attending the festival.
Numbers were higher this year as it took place during holidays to celebrate Bangladesh’s national day.
“All of a sudden, I heard cries and saw people getting trampled,” survivor Laxmi Rana Saha said. “I lost my nephew in the chaos. I only survived by running to higher ground.”
It is estimated that 8 per cent of Bangladesh’s population of 156 million people is Hindu.
Mohammed Jakaria, a senior police official in the district, said more police had been sent to the festival site after the incident and the bathing ritual resumed after the stampede was brought under control.
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