5:54 pm - Sunday November 8, 2015

Patna: Locals blame police as 33 killed in Dussehra stampede, high level probe ordered

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Patna: At least 33 people have been killed and several injured in a stampede that took place during Dusshera celebrations on Friday night. Soon after the incident, the locals blamed the district police for keeping the exits shut after the celebrations which led to the stampede.

The half-km stretch of the road from Gandhi Maidan to Exhibition Road and about same distance upto Kargil Chowk was littered with shoes, slippers and other objects abandoned by the fleeing crowd panicked by the rumours of a live overhead electricity wire falling on them.

Eyewitnesses claim that they saw people desperately jostling with each other to exit. “Only two out of the 11 gates at the sprawling maidan were kept open for the exit,” an onlooker said.

“Panic gripped the people after some youths shouted ‘bhago bhago’ triggering stampede as scores of helpless women and children fell down and got trampled under the feet of crowd running for their lives. I could not rescue them, could have been women of my family and my sons/daughters,” he said.

Locals also slammed the police for making inadequate security arrangements for the people, particularly for their exit saying that no cops were present on the southern side of the Gandhi Maidan to regulate traffic and movement of people. “But for inept policing, loss of large number of lives could have been prevented,” he said and hinted that the toll must be much higher than being accounted by the administration.

Witnesses also say that there was little space for the people on the road as vehicles of district police and VIPs were parked on the road on South-East corner of Gandhi maidan. While scores of people ran for their life from an exit gate on way to Kargil Chowk, a large crowd tried to make way to the Exhibition road where many people, including women and children, met their tragic end.

The narrowness of space on Exhibition road due to construction of a flyover was a major reason for high number of causalities, those present testified. There was inadequate street light on South-East side of Gandhi Maidan as people ran for life and in the process fell on each other in the darkness, the eyewitnesses said.

“There was a rush towards the exit gate that several women and children were run over in the frenzy,” Patna District Magistrate Manish Kumar Verma said.

Even the situation at the Maidan later on was not found to be any better as there was total darkness in the premise after the stampede with the state government and district administration shifting their focus on the PMCH where the injured revellers have been taken for treatment and on the streets for security reasons.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to review the situation of the stampede. Singh has sought a report from the state government on the incident. A high level probe has been ordered into the incident.

The tragedy struck at around 7 PM at the South East corner of the ground near the Exhibition road when people were returning after watching the “Ravana Vadh” (killing of demon king) event and jostled with each other to move ahead, eyewitnesses and officials said.

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After U.S. President Barack Obama raised the issue of religious intolerance in India, The New York Times published a very strong editorial criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for what it calls his “dangerous silence” on a series of communal events in the country.The editorial, by the NYT editorial board, lists recent attacks on churches and reports of Ghar Vapsi or conversion and marks out the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for its proposed conversions programme in Ayodhya in March this year, saying the group “was playing with fire.” “Mr. Modi’s continued silence before such troubling intolerance increasingly gives the impression that he either cannot or does not wish to control the fringe elements of the Hindu nationalist right,” the NYT editorial surmised.Full text of the Editorial published in the New York Times on February 6, 2015:What will it take for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak out about the mounting violence against India’s religious minorities? Attacks at Christian places of worship have prompted no response from the man elected to represent and to protect all of India’s citizens. Nor has he addressed the mass conversion to Hinduism of Christians and Muslims who have been coerced or promised money. Mr. Modi’s continued silence before such troubling intolerance increasingly gives the impression that he either cannot or does not wish to control the fringe elements of the Hindu nationalist right.Recently, a number of Christian churches in India have been burned and ransacked. Last December, St. Sebastian’s Church in East Delhi was engulfed in fire. Its pastor reported a strong smell of kerosene after the blaze was put out. On Monday, St. Alphonsa’s Church in New Delhi was vandalised. Ceremonial vessels were taken, yet collection boxes full of cash were untouched. Alarmed by the attacks, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has urged the government to uphold the secular nature of India and to assure its Christians they are “protected and secure” in their own country.There is also concern about the mass conversions. Last December, about 200 Muslims were converted to Hinduism in Agra. In January, up to 100 Christians in West Bengal “reconverted” to Hinduism. Hard-line Hindu nationalist groups, like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), make no secret of their support for a “homecoming” campaign designed to “return” non-Hindus to the fold. More than 80 per cent of Indians are Hindu, but Pravin Togadia of the VHP says his organisation’s goal is a country that is 100 per cent Hindu. The only way to achieve that is to deny religious minorities their faith.The VHP is reportedly planning a mass conversion of 3,000 Muslims in Ayodhya this month. The destruction of the Babri Mosque there in 1992 by Hindu militants touched off riots between Hindus and Muslims across India that left more than 2,000 people dead. The VHP knows it is playing with fire.Mr. Modi has promised an ambitious agenda for India’s development. But, as President Obama observed in a speech in New Delhi last month: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.” Mr. Modi needs to break his deafening silence on religious intolerance.

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