20240703 india stampede
Discarded clothing and lost shoes were scattered across the muddy site, an open field alongside a highway. Image Credit: AFP

Hathras, India: Survivors of India's deadliest stampede in over a decade on Wednesday recalled the horror of being crushed at a vastly overcrowded Hindu religious gathering that left 121 people dead.

A police report said 250,000 people attended the event in northern India's Uttar Pradesh state, more than triple the 80,000 organisers had permission for.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

On Wednesday morning, hours after the event, discarded clothing and lost shoes were scattered across the muddy site, an open field alongside a highway.

People fell on top of each other as they tumbled down a slope into a water-logged ditch, witnesses said.

"Everyone - the entire crowd, including women and children - all left from the event site at once," said police officer Sheela Maurya, 50, who had been on duty Tuesday as a popular Hindu preacher delivered a sermon.

"There wasn't enough space, and everyone just fell on top of each other."

20240703 uttar pradesh
An ambulance carrying the body of a stampede victim during a Hindu religious gathering leaves the morgue of a hospital in Hathras in India's Uttar Pradesh state. Image Credit: AFP

Officials suggested the stampede was triggered when worshippers tried to gather soil from the footsteps of the preacher, while others blamed a dust storm for sparking panic.

Some fainted from the force of the crowd, before falling and being trampled upon, unable to move.


Maurya, who had been on duty since early morning on Tuesday in the sweltering humid heat at the preacher's ceremony, was among the injured.

"I tried to help some women, but even I fainted and was crushed under the crowd," she said.

"I don't know, but someone pulled me out, and I don't remember much."

Deadly incidents are common at places of worship during major religious festivals in India, the biggest of which prompt millions of devotees to make pilgrimages to holy sites.

"The main highway next to the field was packed with people and vehicles for kilometres, there were far too many people here," said Hori Lal, 45, who lives in Phulrai Mughalgadi village, near the site of the stampede.

"Once people started falling to the side and getting crushed, there was just chaos."

Chaitra V., divisional commissioner of Aligarh city in Uttar Pradesh state, initially said panic began when "attendees were exiting the venue when a dust storm blinded their vision, leading to a melee".

But Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar Singh told reporters after visiting the site that he had been told worshippers had scrambled to get close to the preacher.

"I am told that people rushed to touch his feet and tried to collect soil, and a stampede took place," Singh said, according to the Indian Express daily.

"Many people fell in a nearby drain".

'Huge numbers'

Among the 116 dead, almost all were women, Singh said, with seven children killed and one man.

Maurya said she had worked at several political rallies and large events in the past but had "never seen such huge numbers".

"It was very hot, even I fell there and I survived with great difficulty", she added.

At dawn on Wednesday, four unidentified bodies lay on the floor of a makeshift morgue at the hospital in the nearby town of Hathras.

Ram Nivas, 35, a farmer, said he was searching for his sister-in-law Rumla, 54, who was missing after the crush.

"We haven't been able to find her anywhere," Nivas said, adding he had visited all the nearby hospitals throughout the night.

"We just hope she's still alive," he said quietly. "Maybe just lost."


In the hospital's emergency ward, Sandeep Kumar, 29, sat next to his injured sister, Shikha Kumar, 22.

"After the event ended, everyone wanted to exit quickly, and that is what led to the stampede", Sandeep said.

"She saw people fainting, getting crushed".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced compensation of $2,400 to the next of kin of those who died and $600 to those injured in the "tragic incident".

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

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is also a Hindu monk, expressed his condolences to the relatives of those killed and ordered an investigation into the deaths, his office said.

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.