It was 2 am on the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite the biting cold, about 4,000 youths wishing to become Army sepoys had reached the Bihar Military Police-2 ground at Dehri-on-Sone, a sub-division town in Bihar’s Rohtas district. They had come from the Gaya district for the Army recruitment rally — the physical fitness test for appointment to sepoy posts that is followed by a written exam.
Among them was Mukesh Kumar (20) from Udan Bigha village in Maoist-hit Sherghati, who reached Dehri-on-Sone on January 9 evening. The first batch of about 800 candidates had entered the ground at 2 am. Mukesh was in the second batch, scheduled to enter the ground at 2.40 am. Several policemen, said witnesses, were inside tents outside the ground, instead of making candidates queue up. Mukesh, meanwhile, was ready and was waiting for the gate to open. The gate opened. Soon after, Mukesh was dead.
Vimlesh Kumar, who was injured in the stampede and is recovering at a hospital, recalled, “As the gate opened, candidates rushed to the ground. Some candidates, including Mukesh and I, fell and were trampled upon. While I managed to get up, Mukesh could not.” Mukesh and four injured candidates were rushed to hospital. Mukesh was declared brought dead. The recruitment rally, however, continued and 323 candidates passed the fitness test.
Mukesh was the eldest of three sons of small farmer Dinesh Yadav. “Mukesh had been preparing to join Army since he passed Class X. He would run on the bank of a canal near the village every morning. He had gone to the recruitment drive for the first time. It was the wrong time of the year to hold a physical test. I lost my son because of mismanagement by Army and police. Who can compensate for my loss?”
Vimlesh, a resident of Chilla village in Gaya’s Gurua, said, “Instead of trying to control the situation, police started mild lathicharge on candidates, which worsened the situation”. He said his father is also a farmer. “No one in my extended family has got a government job. Our hopes rest on vacancies in police and Army.”
Another injured candidate Dharmendra Kumar said: “When we were near the gate, no magistrate was present. The chaos followed soon after the gate opened. Soon, some candidates shouted ‘bhago, bhago (run)’. We did not understand and kept running”. Kumar added that since there was no provision of entry into the ground by alphabetical order, chaos was waiting to happen.
Rohtas Additional District Magistrate Om Prakash Pal said, “Barricading has been done from today. It should have been done from the first day.” Asked why the candidates cannot be called in alphabetical order, the ADM said it was up to the Army to look into it. Colonel Rajiv Kumar, in charge of the recruitment drive, said: “We have been calling candidates randomly as per our rules. We will ensure better crowd management. We have also shifted the time of the physical test from 2 am to 4 am”. The recruitment drive that started on January 6 would continue till January 18.