Deoghar/Dumka, Aug. 13: A surge of unruly devotees, estimated at over 1000-strong, today crushed five women, including a teenaged girl, to death inside the temple complex at Deoghar.
While eyewitness accounts claimed the death was due to a stampede, the administration insisted the women lost their balance and fell to their death from the stairs.
The victims, held eyewitness accounts, were actually standing outside the barricades through which the queue of devotees was moving towards the sanctum sanctorum.
They were awaiting their turn to join the queue when impatient devotees behind crushed them to the barricade. The post-mortem might reveal whether they died of suffocation or other causes.
Six devotees had died in similar fashion in 1992 while three more devotees died in 2003 when they were electrocuted after live wires fell on them inside the complex.
After order was restored in the afternoon and victims were rushed to hospital, where five of them were declared dead, devotees vent their anger at “poor” arrangements. A stunned Rajdevi from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, who lost her sister-in-law, mumbled that they had been visiting Deoghar for the past ten years but witnessed such gross mismanagement for the first time.
The pilgrims’ progress was a nightmare, she said, once they entered Jharkhand.
An eyewitness, Gajadhar Singh, from Deoria, also in Uttar Pradesh, recalled that around 10am he was on Sanskarmandapa when he saw a huge gathering of women in another queue, virtually fighting with each other. They screamed and hit out at each other. They seemed to be in a frenzy and desperate to join the queue, he recalled.
Urmila Devi, a survivor, broke down while narrating that she survived because the tremendous and sudden pressure of the crowd had flung her to a distance.
She was unable to reach the sanctum sanctorum and worship the lord, she recalled, but ‘He’ had undoubtedly saved her from certain death.
Till Monday evening, one of the victims had been identified as Shanti Devi (55) from Gorakhpur.
Three of the other deceased were also middle-aged while the last one was a teenaged girl. They were yet to be identified, partly because the bodies were shifted from the sadar hospital to Jasidih primary health centre.
This was done to disperse the sweeling crowd of onlookers at the hospital, where tension ran high and police had a hard time to control the mob.
Angry devotees complained that they were not being allowed to see the bodies.
“How can we identify them,” screamed one of them. Deoghar deputy commissioner Manish Ranjan said photographs of the deceased would soon be put up in all the camps and counters set up by the district administration, to facilitate identification.
Dumka district administration heaved a sigh of relief when chief minister Madhu Koda cancelled his planned visit to the Basukinath temple at Jarmundi.
Pilgrims there turned violent today, complaining of inadequate arrangements after three of them sustained serious injuries when a wall collapsed at a “newly constructed” dharmashala. The wall had caved in due to heavy rain, claimed officials.