Hathras rape Bhim workers
Police detain Bhim workers as security was heightened outside Safdarjung Hospital, where Congress & Bhim Army workers were holding a protest demanding justice for Hathras gang-rape victim, in New Delhi on Tuesday. ANI Image Credit: ANI

New Delhi: An Indian preacher whose latest sermon ended in a deadly stampede said Saturday morning he was "deeply distressed" in his first public response to the disaster.

Bhole Baba's prayer meeting near the northern city of Hathras on Tuesday saw the deaths of 121 people, the vast majority women, after a rush to the exits among the 250,000 devotees who came to watch him preach.

The former police officer-turned-spiritual leader has not been seen in public since, while seven others involved in staging the event have been arrested.

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A police report issued after the stampede named several organisers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba's name was not among them.

"May God give us the strength to bear this pain," he added.

In a video statement aired by Indian broadcasters, Bhole Baba said that he had faith that those responsible for the disaster would be punished.

It was not immediately clear where the former police constable-turned-preacher, dressed entirely in white in keeping with all his public appearances, was speaking from.

His lawyer told AFP on Thursday that he was not hiding from the police, but declined to disclose his whereabouts.

The prayer meeting was attended by 250,000 devotees, more than three times the number the event had legal permissions for.

Local media reports suggested he had retreated to his nearby monastery, the gates of which have been chained shut by supporters inside to bar public access.

Baba's lawyer blamed "anti-social elements" in the crowd for the stampede.

Around 20 police officers were on guard outside the monastery after the stampede but had not entered the sprawling premises, which are also ringed by a five-metre-high (15-foot-high) wall.

Police have arrested seven organisers of the prayer meeting and a judicial probe is investigating the circumstances of the incident.

Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses.

In 2008, 224 pilgrims were killed and more than 400 were injured in a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur.