A rumour that cost over 120 lives

August 3rd, 2008 - 9:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Naina Devi (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 3 (IANS) It took just one rumour to sniff out over 120 lives in a few minutes in the famous Hindu hill shrine of Naina Devi in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district Sunday. Officials confirmed that so far 123 devotees, most of them women and children, were found killed in the stampede that followed panic created by the rumour that boulders were falling from the hill on which this holy shrine is located, 160 km from Shimla.

Eyewitnesses told the police that the rumour was started by devotees coming after paying obeisance. Without verifying anything, the devotees who were coming down and hundreds more who were climbing up the steep gradient of the hill shrine started running wherever they could.

This led to a stampede and a huge mass of human beings tumbled down as a safety barricade gave away under their combined weight. Innocent women and children - with their hands folded as they waited to pay obeisance - became the first victims of the stampede, most of them being crushed under other devotees.

Thousands of the devout, most of them from neighbouring Punjab - including Hindus and Sikhs - thronged the Naina Devi shrine Sunday for Sawan Navaratras’ the first nine days of the Hindu month of Shravan. Being a Sunday, the rush of devotees was far greater than on weekdays.

“There was so much of chaos after the stampede that no one knew what was happening. People were running in all directions. There were cries and wails. Bodies were lying in heaps. It was worse than a war zone. Most of those killed were hapless women and children,” said devotee Gautam from Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district.

“Devotees ran in all directions trying to find their loved ones. Children who survived the stampede cried for their parents who seemed lost or were killed in the mayhem. Women cried as they tried to look for their children among the heaps of bodies,” pointed out another devotee Inderjit Singh.

“I have looked everywhere. I along with my brothers reached the site within two hours of the stampede. However, I could not trace my father,” said a shattered Jasbir Singh as he looked at each of the bodies while carrying a photograph of his father and asking people if they had seen him.

“We saw each and every body but we failed to trace him,” he pointed out.

Naresh Gupta from Punjab was still searching for his wife Neena. Sadly, the body of his young daughter was recovered.

Top Himachal police officials acknowledged that it was a rumour that claimed over 120 lives. They, however, ruled out that the rumour could have been the handiwork of any terrorist outfit.

“We are trying to investigate how the rumour started. There is no possibility of any terrorist outfit being behind this. The stampede occurred due to the momentum built by the rumour,” additional director general of police D.S. Manhas told IANS.

Himachal inspector general of police (law and order) S. R. Mardi, who rushed to this spot from state capital Shimla, told IANS that though security arrangements were in place for the rush of devotees, security agencies had not anticipated such an incident instigated by rumours.

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