It was Dussehra and everyone was in a festive mood and as in every year, only one man was going to die. This was going to be yet another day when good would triumph over evil. But that was not be in Patna, where 32 innocent and unsuspecting persons would lose their lives, along with Ravan and leave over 50 injured, some seriously.

The day was the 3rd of October 2014, the location: Gandhi Maidan. The crowds had gathered in large numbers and the excitement drew to a frenzy as the moment drew closer when Lord Ram would finally slay evil personified, the ten headed Ravan.

The final blow of death had just happened amidst all sound and fury of crackers and lights, when something went wrong. Horribly wrong. Actually, no still knows what went wrong but there was panic everywhere and everyone began to run, push, jostle in every direction just to get away from something, no one knew what. Not even those who lost their lives knew why they died.

That’s the nature of the beast called panic. It can hit anyone anywhere and when it happens, no one is prepared, as no one expects the worst to happen. Not even the authorities and that’s where we have a problem, a real problem.

Like all tragedies of stampede that have now become a regular occurrence in India, the Patna tragedy too will be forgotten before the week is over, with all the usual noises from the politicians about how sorry they were about what happened and the authorities would be instructed to give out compensation packages to the injured and relatives of those who died and then it’s back to business, as usual.

No, it’s time the nation must stand up to say enough is enough and prosecute all those who stand in the line of responsibility, from the organizers to the administration that were present on the ground and the officials under whose purview the event took place.

It is time that laws are put in place that clearly define punishment to those under whose purview the event takes place and ensure that a speedy trial follows and that justice is served to those who lose their lives and those who are injured.

Is it not ironical that we are willing to hold rallies and protests when a corrupt leader is put behind bars but it’s just another day for us despite 32 people losing their lives due to somebody’s negligence or lack of planning and control? It’s because we, as a nation, have become insular to tragedies, not because we don’t care, it’s just that the deaths are so frequent and in such large numbers that it does not touch us emotionally, not anymore.

So if it’s a stampede tragedy or an attack on a CRPF camp by the Maoists, we don’t really feel anything on hearing that a large number of people lost their lives. And that is scary. For if the nation stops to care, then we lose our sense of civility and respect for life.

In the US, when there is a single person who loses his life in line of duty or attracts attention in the media, the US President personally sends out a message of condolence. In India, the Patna stampede is just another piece of news and the day moves on.

Each time a tragedy occurs anywhere in India, there are no follow-up reports of anyone being held responsible and legal action taken that lead to prosecution. Why is there no clear line of responsibility defined at the time permission for a public gathering is given? It involves the local organizers, the police, the fire department, the civic authorities and they all need to work in coordination with each other to ensure a smooth conduct of an event.

In India, most of the stampedes that have occurred have taken place at a religious gathering. The Kumbh Mela is famous for being one of the largest venues for people gathering anywhere in the world but has also become synonymous with stampedes.

A good example of the success and failure of the authorities in organizing events like the Maha Kumbh Mela can be seen in the recent one in 2013 at Prayag, Allahabad. On Feb 10 2013, the authorities did an excellent job in crowd control, management and movement of 30 million pilgrims who visited the mela area, however, on the same day, a stampede occurred at the railway station that resulted in 36 pilgrims losing their lives and another 39 getting injured.

So how is it that on one hand the authorities successfully managed to keep the large crowd of 30 million well managed but still ended up in tragedy occurring in a crowd that would not be more than a few thousand, at the railway station? The answer is simple. The authorities focused all their planning and attention to the mela area and did not coordinate with the railway authorities to ensure end-to-end control and coordination.

In the end, the authorities tried to blame the railways, who in turn blamed the authorities. Here again, no responsibility pinned, no action taken and therefore no prosecution. Just another loss of 36 lives that went unanswered.

 

Some of the major stampedes at religious events in India that occurred in the last 10 years:

  • Oct 13 2013: 89 dead, 100 injured at Ratangarh Temple, Datia, MP.
  • Sept 12 2012: 2 dead, 6 injured at Rajgir near Patna, Bihar
  • Nov 08 2011: 16 dead, scores injured at Haridwar, Uttarakhand
  • Jan 14 2011: 102 dead, 50 injured at Pulmedu, Idukki, Kerala
  • Mar 04 2010: 63 dead, 15 injured at Kripaluji Maharaj Ashram, Pratapgarh, U.P
  • Jan 03 2008: 5 dead at Durga Malleshwara temple, Vijayawada, A.P.
  • July 2008: 6 dead, 12 injured during the Jagannath Yatra, Puri, Odisha
  • Sept 30 2008: 250 dead, 60 injured at the Chamunda Devi temple, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
  • Aug 03 2008: 160 dead, 230 injured at Naina Devi temple, Himachal Pradesh
  • Mar 27 2008: 8 dead, 10 injured at a temple in Karila Village, M.P.
  • Oct 2007: 11 dead at a temple in Pawagah, Gujarat
  • Nov 2006: 4 dead at Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha
  • Jan 26 2005: 350 dead, 250 injured at Mandhar Devi temple, Maharashtra
  • Aug 2003: 40 dead, 125 injured at Kumbh Mela, Nashik, Maharashtra

 

The list is endless and the same result gets played out on each tragedy and with no lessons learnt. The politicians don’t get into the act unless push comes to shove and have no choice but to act, so it is up to us, the people, to stand up and raise our voice to force the lawmakers to ensure that the laws are tightened and stringent action taken against all officials that are found to be guilty of negligence or inaction, leading up to the tragedy.

All the above tragedies were avoidable and happened due to lack of proper planning, crowd control and crowd management. After all, the authorities did successfully manage to control 30 million in a single day at Kumbh Mela at Prayag, didn’t they?

Remember, if we don’t act now, the next time it could well be one of our dear ones lying in a filthy mortuary, as a result of yet another stampede.