Ahead of the funeral of Dawoodi Bohra spiritual leader Dr Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin in Mumbai, a stampede broke out near his residence Saifee Mahal, Malabar Hill, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, killing 18 people and leaving at least 46 injured.
The worst such tragedy in the metropolis showed complete lack of coordination between Mumbai police and Bohra community leaders. The police also appeared to have grossly underestimated the turnout of those seeking to pay their last respects. Those killed in the stampede included two minors and five senior citizens.
However, police said the stampede broke out as community leaders closed the gates of the Syedna’s residence, located in a narrow lane, causing people gathered outside to rush to get in. The incident happened around 1.30 am, shortly after community leaders announced that the gates would be closed.
As news of the stampede deaths came in, Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh urged the Syedna’s followers to stay home. “I have ordered an inquiry to ascertain as to what exactly happened late last night. I appeal to the people to take glimpse of Dr Syedna on television and not come on the roads.”
But till late afternoon on Saturday, people were still coming in, with roads leading to Bhendi Bazaar lined with vehicles that had ferried people from other states. The total number of followers at the funeral is estimated to have been over three lakh. The 102-year-old Syedna died suddenly following a cardiac arrest on Friday morning.
The officers in-charge of the area said Dawoodi Bohra leaders had not given them an idea of the numbers estimated to come. DCP, Zone II, Nisar Tamboli said a case of accidental death had been registered at the Malabar Hill police station.
“At the time of the incident, there were more than 60,000 people near the Syedna’s home,” Tamboli said. “The lack of a proper dispersal system led to the stampede.” Police officers said they had been told by community leaders that around 2,000 to 5,000 people would turn up.
Qureish Raghib, a spokesperson for the community, admitted they had not expected such a huge crowd.
“The gates to the Syedna’s residence were suddenly closed and people got very emotional. That created a lot of confusion. The lanes in Malabar Hill are very narrow and when the stampede broke out, there was little space for movement,” said Quaid Najmi, a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
“There were merely 100-200 policemen in the area and the crowd kept increasing,” said a 19-year-old follower, who was present at the spot of the stampede.
Huzefa Rangwala, who had come from Indore, said, “In an attempt to get a glimpse of the Syedna, people started climbing on the main gates. Several fell and commotion ensued.”
While 41 people injured in the stampede were discharged on Saturday, five are still at Saifee Hospital. “The cause of death is asphyxiation in most cases. Several were run over by other people and sustained injuries in the chest,” said a source at JJ Hospital, where the dead were taken for postmortem.