Varanasi stampede: At least 24 killed and dozens injured in crush during Hindu pilgrimage in India

Incident occurs as thousands of pilgrims flock to a religious site in northern India

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At least 24 people have been killed and dozens more injured after a stampede in the northern Indian city of Varanasi.

The crush happened as tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims tried to cross a bridge to a holy site. Claims that the bridge was collapsing reportedly led people to flee, with the victims getting caught in the rush.

"Rumours about the bridge collapse led to chaos after a man fell down in a crowd," said Javeed Ahmad, a local police officer.

It happened as pilgrims made their way to the holy village of Domri on the outskirts of Varanasi for a two-day ritual.

Millions of Hindus travel to Varanasi every year to pray and try to wash away their sins by taking a dip in the sacred river Ganges.

Local police said the stampede occurred after many thousands more people than expected turned up to the event.

"The organisers had sought permission for a gathering of just about 5,000 people, but when the crowds started pouring in, they went far beyond 70,000 to 80,000, thereby making it difficult for police on duty," a local police official said.

The city is in the home constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr Modi, who was hosting an international summit at the time, said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of lives” and had asked local officials to do all they can to help those affected. 

There have been a number of stampedes at India’s holy sites during pilgrimages and religious festivals in recent years. 

In 2008, 145 people died when a panicking crowd pushed people over a ravine in north India. In 2013 a crowd rush at a railway station killed at least 36 Hindu pilgrims, attending a festival.

Last July, at least 27 were killed and dozens more injured in a stampede at a Hindu festival in south India and in August ten more died in a similar incident in the eastern state of Jharkhand.

Additional reporting by agencies.