Families of India stampede victims ponder future without loved ones | Religion News

The orange flames shone a light on the twilight scene as Savitri Devi, 50, was cremated.

She was among more than 120 people, mostly women, who died in a stampede last week at a religious festival in northern India, as the faithful surged towards a preacher and chaos ensued among the attendees.

The event had received permission to accommodate only 80,000 people. It is not clear how many made it inside the giant tent set up in a muddy field in a village in Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh state but they were reported to be about three times the permitted number.

“It was a matter of fate. What does [Bhole] Baba have to do with it?” Vir Pal Singh said about his wife Savitri Devi’s passing. Singh was a volunteer at the religious gathering. The couple had been followers of the Hindu guru, Bhole Baba, for more than 10 years.

Police are still investigating the cause of the stampede. The state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told reporters that a crowd rushed towards the preacher to touch him as he left the stage, and volunteers struggled to control them.

An initial report from police suggested that thousands of people then thronged the exits and many slipped on the muddy ground, causing them to fall and be crushed.

The chaos appeared to continue outside the tent when people ran towards the preacher as he left in a vehicle. His security guards pushed the crowd back, causing more people to fall, according to officials.

Savitri Devi’s daughters Bharti and Sonam were inconsolable. “We’re orphans now. Mother has left us. Who will take care of us?” they wailed. Village women held them and mourned together.

“My parents believed that Babaji [the preacher] would lift all our burdens,” said Ajay Kumar, who went to the gathering because it was a family tradition.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common at Indian religious festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with shoddy infrastructure and few safety measures.

Savitri Devi’s family will lay her ashes in the River Ganges, in keeping with the Hindu belief that the deceased will attain salvation with this act.

When asked whether he would volunteer at the Baba’s religious events in the future, Singh only said: “I will decide when the time comes.”

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