Bhole Ram,who sells tea at one end of the Ratangarh bridge near the Mata Sundari Mandir in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh,was at his shop at 7 am on Sunday,half an hour early.
It was the last day of the Navratras and he knew there would be a huge crowd. And sure enough,by 7.30 am,there were several thousand making their way to the temple.
What he didnt know,or expect,was that he would soon witness more than 100 of those devotees being trampled to death in a stampede on the same bridge,some jumping off it into the Sindh river to save themselves.
The policemen,fewer than 20 in number,were sitting at two ends of the bridge. There was nobody manning the middle. That was a huge part of the problem, he said.
District officials said upwards of 20,000 people were making their way to the temple,about a tenth of whom were on the bridge at 8.30 am.
I come here every year during Navratra,and for some reason the police allow tractor trolleys,which ferry devotees,to park on the bridge, said Saheb Singh,whose sister was injured in the stampede. I was on the side of the bridge near Ratangarh village,with the temple on the other side. Suddenly,the two of us heard shouts of puliya toot rahi hai,aage bhago (the bridge is collapsing,run forward).
And everyone started running. But in the next two minutes,there was a huge crowd coming back towards us as well. I somehow clung to the side of the bridge to avoid being sandwiched. My sister used her sari to jump off the bridge. Luckily,she only broke her foot.
With his shop located on the other side,Bhole Ram said a lack of communication caused the push from that end of the bridge.
When the 10 policemen,who were until then only sitting around,saw a huge bunch of people running towards them saying bhaago,they panicked and started caning people to control the crowd. Those in the front turned back,and those in the middle got caught in the melee, Ram said.
Pankaj Kumar from Uttar Pradesh was one of those in the middle.
There was absolute pandemonium. Somebody said a tractor had hit the bridge and it was breaking from the back,and people came running from the front screaming the police were charging, Kumar said. I saw,and must have stepped on so many bodies. I didnt intend to harm them,but there was no way to avoid it. There was no space on the bridge because of the parked tractor trollies. The administration is guilty of murder.
Caught between a frenzied crowd and police charging with batons,children bore the brunt of the stampede.
District administration records show 29 of the 111 dead are children under the age of 12. Twenty were between the ages of 12 and 20.
Dr R S Gupta,chief medical officer of Datia district,told The Indian Express that 63 of the dead were female. District officials said the cause of most deaths was related to asphyxiation.
A majority of the deaths are due to failure of organs due to oxygen being cut off. Others have signs of internal haemorrhaging on their chest,spine and abdomen,indicating that several people trampled upon them, one official said.
Not a single person had been admitted so far with symptoms related to drowning,he added.
Gupta said devotees in age groups that were unable to make a quick escape,and physically vulnerable make up the numbers of the injured as well. The dead also included 13 elderly people.
What this means is that 62 victims were either youngsters or the elderly, an official said.