After the stampede

After the stampede

The day 20 devotees were killed in a stampede at Haridwar was a hectic day at a makeshift hospital

A day in the life of Lalita Sarpa,48
Nurse volunteering in Haridwar

All that’s left of the makeshift base hospital is the bare scaffolding,soon to be pulled down. Lalita Sarpa poses for photos with other nurses and and helpers,the friends she made here over the past two weeks. The photos will live on as memories of celebrations that went awry and turned into a disaster.

It was a usual nippy morning on November 8 when Sarpa went about the 100-bed base hospital,attending to stray cases of dehydration,when suddenly the news arrived of the stampede at the main yagyashala (place of sacred fire). Soon after,about 150 victims poured in,a few of them brought dead. The stampede,barely a kilometre away from the famous Har ki Pauri ghat,claimed 20 lives and curtailed the five-day birth centenary celebrations of Acharya Pandit Shriram Sharma,founder of the Akhil Vishwa Gayatri Pariwar,to three days.

Months in advance,Sarpa had applied for a 30-day leave from her job as staff nurse at the primary health centre at Suregaon in Durg district of Chhattisgarh. She had meticulously planned her trip to Haridwar and attended several meetings held by the organising committee. Not only did she volunteer to extend her services at the base hospital but also motivated and convinced her daughter Barkha Verma,son-in-law Amit Verma and her son Atul Sarpa to volunteer at the VIP and media management cells.


Around 10.30 a.m.,Sarpa saw a sea of people rushing into the base hospital—the alarming sound of ambulance sirens telling her it was time to plunge into action. Most victims were rushed into the hospital in ambulances and private cars,though a few just limped their way in. The base hospital that could accommodate only 100 patients was choc-a-bloc with the injured,their relatives and the organisers. “We could barely manage the crowd,” Sarpa recalled. “There were so many patients that we had to shift them out to city hospitals and smaller nursing centres set up for the occasion. The dead,however,were immediately taken to the main city hospital because we do not have the facility to conduct autopsies. Even the seriously injured were sent to a city hospital as they needed intensive care. Even after this,more than 100 patients were left behind. We asked them to queue up and administered doses of basic pain killers and nursed their wounds. We barely had time to breathe that day.”

By late evening,when most of the injured were discharged after a few hours of observation,Sarpa still had her hands full as patients complaining of dehydration kept pouring in. As doctors shuttled around the camp prescribing medicines,Sarpa,who has been in the profession for over two decades,had the bottles of saline and medicines ready even before she was asked to get them.

“Even after the patients were treated and could go back to their respective camps,our work wasn’t over. Most of the devotees had come from the interiors of Uttar Pradesh,Bihar and Chhattisgarh and are not even literate. We had to locate their exact camps and explain the medication to their relatives,” Sarpa explained as she wrapped two blankets around Shakuntala Shukla,the only injured who was asked to spend the night on Tuesday at the base hospital while the rest of them were discharged by late evening.

In her profession,emergency is the routine; but this one was different. Sarpa had never seen a crisis of this magnitude. “So many people to attend to,” she said. “It was a huge challenge. There were about 10 or 15 of us,including the doctors,and more than 150 patients requiring immediate attention. Before that,we used to get about 10 patients a day,complaining of dehydration and exhaustion,all of whom could be easily handled.”

On Tuesday night,it was only at 11.30 p.m. that Sarpa and her colleagues realised they had missed all their meals. The packaged meal,four pooris and a vegetable curry,was cold yet quite a comfort for the famished staff.

On Wednesday morning,which had to be declared the last day of the celebrations after the district administration asked the organisers to wrap up,Sarpa,though dejected,still wore a comforting smile. “I came on October 15 and have my tickets booked till November 15. But with the celebrations being curtailed,I will now be staying at the Shantikunj Ashram before I leave for Raipur,where my in-laws live,” she said,her gaze shifty as her colleagues dragged her away for one last group photo at what could be called the remains of the base hospital.