Vaishno Devi: 12 dead and dozens injured in stampede at Indian temple on New Year’s Day

At least 12 people died in the stampede at the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu and Kashmir, India  (Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Official Website)
At least 12 people died in the stampede at the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu and Kashmir, India (Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Official Website)

At least 12 people died and dozens were injured during a stampede at an Indian temple on New Year’s Day.

The stampede took place around 3am on Saturday, after a huge rush of devotees had visited the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir to offer their prayers and mark the beginning of the new year.

The shrine reopened to devotees later on Saturday after being briefly shut down due to the stampede.

“Preliminary information from the scene suggests there was an altercation among some young boys, and within seconds, there was a stampede situation,” said Jammu and Kashmir director general of police, Dilbagh Singh.

“Police and officials from the civil administration were quick to respond, and the order within the crowd was immediately restored, but by that time, the damage had been done,” he added.

But some officials said that “large groups of devotees reportedly entered the Bhawan [temple] without permission slips”, according to NDTV.

The shrine is a popular Hindu pilgrimage site that sees millions of pilgrims every year. Devotees visiting the hilltop shrine usually trek from the Katra base camp, which is about 13 km away from the temple. Some devotees use palanquins, porters or ponies to get to the temple.

Witnesses said that the stampede took place near gate number three, outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.

“Something happened near one of the gates and I found myself under a crush of people. I suffocated and fell but somehow managed to stand up,” Mahesh, a devotee who was present during the stampede, told the Associated Press news agency.

“I saw people moving over the bodies. It was a horrifying sight, but I managed to help in rescuing some injured people,” he added.

Survivors later alleged that mismanagement by the shrine’s authorities led to the stampede, according to Press Trust of India news agency.

“It was a free-for-all-like situation. Many people were without mandatory face masks,” said Prem Singh, a pilgrim from Madhya Pradesh.

He also alleged that police personnel on duty at the X-ray checking point surrendered to the heavy rush and were warning people about the possibility of such an accident.

According to a friend of one of the deceased devotees, the rush was such that they did not get any help for almost three hours after the tragedy. “I had visited the shrine about 10 years ago but was surprised by the heavy rush this time. After the tragedy, we found ourselves helpless and got no help till 6am,” he said.

Officials added that the dead bodies had been taken to a nearby hospital at the Katra base camp, where legal formalities were underway.

At least 20 injured persons have been shifted to the Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspeciality Hospital.

Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha said on Saturday afternoon: “Twelve devotees died in the Katra stampede. Sixteen others were rushed to a hospital, out of which nine were discharged. Seven people are still in the hospital and some of them are on ventilators.”

Prime minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences over the deaths and said all efforts were being made to provide relief to those who had been injured.

“Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan,” he wrote on Twitter. “Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.”

Deadly stampedes are common in India, especially during political and religious gatherings.

In 2013, at least 115 people were crushed to death or drowned in a river while visiting a temple during the Hindu festival of Navratri in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India.

In 2011, more than 100 Hindu devotees died in a stampede in the southern state of Kerala.