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Friday, January 21, 2022

Survivors relive Vaishno Devi shrine horror: ‘some fell, were run over’

🔴 The stampede that killed 12 pilgrims at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in J&K early on Saturday also left indelible scars in the minds of those who survived the horror.

Written by Arun Sharma | Katra |
Updated: January 2, 2022 11:25:26 am
Vasihno Devi stampede, Vasihno Devi death, Vasihno Devi stampede killed, Jammu and Kashmir Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir news, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsA scene in the late hours. The stampede occured near Gate No. 3 leading up to the sanctum sanctorum. (PTI)

A teenager fell unconscious and woke up to see “many dead bodies”. A couple clung to a pillar for life, struggling to breathe in the crush. And a family watched in dismay as parents in panic pushed aside other children to save their own.

The stampede that killed 12 pilgrims at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in J&K early on Saturday also left indelible scars in the minds of those who survived the horror.

Seventeen-year-old Ayush from Delhi was returning from the shrine when he saw people ahead, near a police checkpoint, turn back and run. “I didn’t know what had happened, but I saw many people falling down near me. Then, I fell down with people stamping on me. The only thought in my mind was I may not survive. I fell unconscious,’’ he said.

“When I regained my senses, I looked around to see many dead bodies lying there. I felt intense pain in my leg but I started looking for my elder brother and found him lying unconscious nearby. With the help of locals and some pilgrims, I managed to take him to a health facility nearby where doctors gave us first aid. We were then taken to a hospital in Katra in an ambulance,” said Ayush, who had arrived for the pilgrimage with his brother and a friend.

The teenager said doctors discharged him later in the day while his brother is on ventilator support. “There was no one to control the crowd. No one even checked our yatra slips and Covid test certificates,” he said.

Rajat Sharma, 43, a businessman from Delhi’s Vikaspuri, had visited the shrine along with his wife and 17-year-old son hours before the stampede. “Bas, jaan bach gayi (Our lives were saved),” he said.

Blaming the Shrine Board for the tragedy, he said: “They could have at least made announcements on the public address system, asking people to stand where they are.”

Relatives carry the body of a victim at a mortuary at the base camp in Katra following a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, in Reasi district, Saturday morning, Jan 1, 2022. (PTI)

Sharma recalled that when they reached the shrine late on Friday, “the first sight was the huge rush of pilgrims”. “A few hours after darshan, we came out from another route manned by CRPF. When we neared a police security room, a group of unruly youth hit our son, injuring his foot,” Sharma said.

“Before we could react, we saw a crowd of 300-400 people rushing in our direction. We took refuge in the police room, which was already overcrowded. During the melee, many people handed over their little children to us for safety,” he said.

Describing the scene, Sharma said there was “chaos everywhere”. “Near the Manokamna Bhawan in the complex, another group of 400-500 people was pushing others aside to move forward. Suddenly, people started running in all directions. There was no one to control the crowd. As some fell, others ran over them,” he said.

Mukesh, 30, who had come with his wife and children from Delhi, said they were standing in queue when they saw a crowd surging forward from both Katra and the shrine. “They were pushing others aside to move forward. Some minor children were standing there, and some parents were pushing some of them away to save their own children from getting trampled,” he said.

“This led to an altercation and suddenly people started running,” Mukesh said, adding that he too fell down. “There was no one to help, except for some locals who helped us reach the health facility nearby,” he said.

Priyanka and her husband Abhishek, from Delhi, said they “caught hold of a pillar under a shed” to save themselves. “Pressed between the pillar and the crowd, we were breathing with difficulty. We thought we may not survive,” Abhishek said.

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