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102 KILLED IN SABARIMALA STAMPEDE IN INDIA


KERALA, India - It was meant to be the moment of bliss and climax rolled into one for pilgrims to the famed mountain shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala's Pathanamthitta on Friday evening. Marking the end of the pilgrimage season, tens of thousands of devotees gathered at different spots at every available space for kilometres around the shrine, to catch a sight of the magical light, or Makara jyoti, that comes up on the hills.
  • However, shortly after 7pm on Friday, the Makara jyoti was visible, delighting the devotees. But moments later, delight turned to confusion, panic and a stampede as a collusion of events led to a tragedy that took the lives of over 100 people who were until a few minutes ago chanting prayers.
  • Reports vary about just how the tragedy was triggered, but it is believed that the confusion and the accident were caused because of some altercation between autorickshaws and jeeps ferrying devotees from Pulmedu near Vandiperiyar, the rush of the uncontrollable crowd to return to their vehicles, and the bare infrastructure facilities the area had. All of that were compounded by the fact that it was dark, and mobile phones had no coverage at the spot.
  • Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who reached Kumily yesterday and also held an emergency meeting with available members of his cabinet, announced that the state government had decided on a judicial inquiry into the matter. The state cabinet also decided to offer Rs5,00,000 each to the families of those killed in the incident, in addition to the Rs1,00,000 offered by the federal government.
According to official sources, 102 people lost their lives in the tragedy, including five Keralites. Those who lost their lives are believed to have witnessed the Makara jyoti from Pulmedu, and were on their way back to Vandiperiyar, some 30km away, via Vallakadavu and Uppupara.
  • Most of those who lost their lives are believed to have been victims of a stampede, as post-mortem examinations showed grievous injury to the internal organs of the devotees, apparently caused because of trampling. According to district authorities, the stampede may have been triggered when an autorickshaw and jeep, with devotees, toppled over.
  • The chief minister disagreed with journalists who asked him about the lack of lighting on the road through Pulmedu, and said it was not the time to discuss such matters.
  • This was not the first time such a mishap had happened at Sabarimala. In 1952, 66 people had died when two cracker units caught fire at Sabarimala. In 1999, Sabarimala witnessed another major tragedy when 52 devotees died in a stampede after viewing Makara jyoti.
  • A large number of Friday's victims were from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Government teams from each of these states rushed to Kerala to take stock of the situation and assist in taking the bodies to their home states. The Kerala government has offered all help in transporting the bodies to the homes of the deceased, and announced it would bear the cost of such transportation.
  • Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at Kumily and Vandiperiyar yesterday when family members and friends frantically searched among bodies to identify their dear ones, including a few children who lost their lives.
  • The pilgrimage route in Sabarimala snakes through the Periyar forest reserve, and the development of road and other infrastructure has been a matter of debate because of the environmental issues involved. At many spots along the way, crowd control is effected by tying ropes, and the probability for a stampede is often high.
Following the tragedy, the state government declared a day of mourning, and official functions were scrapped. Opposition Congress leaders who were leading a political rally headed to the state capital, also temporarily halted the programme and rushed to the accident site.
Source: AP
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