At least 19 persons have been killed with 25 injured in a stampede that occurred on Saturday at a religious gathering in northern India as thousands of devotees of a controversial guru tried to cross a bridge at once, police said.
The followers of Jai Gurudev, a leader of a local religious sect, had gathered on the outskirts of Varanasi, a Hindu holy town on the banks of the river Ganges in Uttar Pradesh state, when the deadly stampede broke out.
“A total of 19 people have died in the incident. Fourteen of the dead are women,” Hari Ram Sharma, police inspector general, told reporters in the state capital Lucknow.
Speaking on the disaster, the State police chief Javeed Ahmed faulted overcrowding on the old iron bridge for the incident.
“They had sought permission for 5,000 persons but many more people reached and joined the procession,” Ahmed told India’s NDTV news network.
“They were crossing a bridge when some rumour-mongering happened which led to the disaster.”
Also speaking, S.K. Bhagat, another police officer, said that organizers were expecting 3,000 Hindu devotees at the ceremony, but that more than 70,000 thronged the ashram of the local Hindu religious leader, Gurudev, on the banks of the Ganges River.
“We were not prepared for such a large crowd,” Raj Bahadur, a spokesman for the organizers, told The Associated Press.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply saddened by the tragedy.
“I have spoken to officials and asked them to ensure all possible help to those affected,” he tweeted.
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