A stampede at a train station has resulted in over 35 deaths and many more injuries, which will now tragically define the ‘most auspicious’ day of the 55-day long Kumbh Mela religious festival in India. Hindu pilgrims flocked to the northern city of Allahabad to atone their sins at the Sangam where three rivers meet, and the world’s “largest gathering of humanity” saw the city’s population temporarily rise from approximately 1.2 million to 30 million, according to ABC News. Sky News reported, as Sunday drew to an end, the train station became extremely overcrowded. A spokesperson for the Indian state, Ashok Sharma, claimed that deaths resulted from a railway bridge collapsing under the pressure of an excessive amount of travellers who were “resting” on the structure at the same time.
After hearing of the devastating loss of life, the festival’s Chief Organiser resigned while the Indian Prime Minister has announced he is “deeply shocked” by the deaths. As BigPond News suggests, given that the event, which takes place every three years, has previously resulted in the deaths of over 220 people, perhaps this information should not have come as such a shock to planning officials.
According to the Gulf Times, survivors have disputed the Indian Railway Minister’s claim that the deaths resulted simply from overcrowding, and have criticised poor emergency response procedures claiming that medics did not arrive on the scene for hours. Others reported that panicked pilgrims flocked towards the bridge in response to baton-armed police “charging” the crowd at the station. As was noted in an article in The Australian, “crushes are a constant menace” at religious festivals not just in India, but around the world. In 1990 for example 1426 deaths resulted from a crowd surge at an annual religious festival in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Despite improvements in preventative measures such as crowd management and policing, the the risk of serious injury and death during the Hajj Festival in Mecca continues . The tolerance for crowd-related risk at large-scale events in Australia is lower than in many other, where crowd control and safety measures are not legally enforceable. In this country any death at an event is deemed as unacceptable.