63 dead in Indian temple stampede

LUCKNOW: Sixty-three people, all of them women and children, were crushed to death today in a stampede at a temple in India when a gate collapsed triggering panic among the 10,000-strong crowd.

The devotees had gathered in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to receive food and clothes from a local holy man when the under-construction gate on the perimeter of the temple complex came crashing down, police said.

“We have now counted all the bodies and they include 37 children and 26 women who had come to collect free gifts,” assistant superintendent of police SP Pathak told AFP by telephone from the scene. State officials said organisers had been unprepared for the size of the crowd that assembled to meet holy man Kripaluji Maharaj at the Ram Janki temple in Pratapgarh, 650 km southeast of New Delhi.

According to his website, Maharaj runs a charitable trust which sets up schools, temples and hospitals and operates five large Hindu ashrams (hermitages), including one in the United States.

Police said 125 people had been injured and were being treated at local hospitals or at the scene.

“I want my sister back,” one distraught woman told the IBN7 news channel. “She came here to get clothes and sweets, but now she is dead.” “My wife would come here every day,” another mourner said. “Today she came with her friends to participate in the event. She was found dead on the stairs of the temple.”

Stampedes at religious events in India are common as large numbers of worshippers pack congested areas. Panic can spread quickly and, with few safety regulations in place, the result is often lethal.