|Footwear lie scattered after the stampede. (PTI)
Mumbai, Jan. 18: Eighteen followers were killed in a stampede outside the Mumbai residence of Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Saheb, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community who died yesterday, when they were waiting to pay their last respects.
The deaths occurred around 1.30am when the main gates of Saifee Mahal, a sprawling bungalow on Malabar Hill in south Mumbai, were closed and several thousand followers who had been in the queue for more than three hours jostled to get in, police said.
“Eighteen people were declared dead. Forty-seven others were admitted to Saifee Hospital, of whom 42 were treated for injuries and allowed to leave. Five with more serious injuries are recuperating at the hospital,” a spokesperson for the BMC’s Disaster Control Room said. The dead were all male, with the youngest aged 11.
Aamir Kalolwala, a Pune youth employed with the multinational company WNS Ltd, had arrived from Pune with his family in the evening to attend the funeral and had put up at a relative’s place in Mazgaon. “They went to Saifee Mahal after 10pm. His father Abbasbhai was injured but survived, but Aamir was crushed in the stampede,” a relative said. The youth was to get married soon.
Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh said: “The exact cause of the stampede can only be ascertained after a probe, but the roads were narrow and most deaths have been caused by suffocation. There were so many people that people could not breathe. Gates were closed, following which some people fell on each other.”
Home minister R.R. Patil has ordered a probe into the stampede, which occurred in a high-security area where the chief minister, cabinet ministers and the governor live
Repeated calls to the community’s two spokespersons here for a reaction went unanswered.
An eyewitness, who was one of the last to enter the house and requested anonymity, told The Telegraph: “Though the bungalow itself is quite large with a large garden, confusion was caused by conflicting messages. Initially, text messages were sent out that no one should congregate at Saifee Mahal, but many families did not pay heed to that. Later in the evening, word spread that everyone who comes there would be allowed a last glimpse of the spiritual leader.”
The witness said the bungalow has two entrances, both of which were initially kept open. “Then in an attempt to streamline the process, the gate close to Sahyadri Guest House was made into an exit and everyone had to enter from the farther end near Priyadarshini Park.
“The mortal remains were kept in the ground floor drawing room and there were two doors to the room. Only one person could enter the place at a time. As a result, it was taking a long time to get a glimpse and after waiting for close to four hours, people became impatient. The police were clearly inadequate and unprepared to handle such a large crowd.”
The witness, who waited in the queue from 10pm and managed to enter at 1am, also fell down at the main entrance but was helped up by the crowd.
The tragedy, however, was no deterrent for thousands of other followers who marched hours later in a funeral procession carrying the casket with the Syedna’s remains to the Raudat Tahera mausoleum in Bhendi Bazar in south-central Mumbai, several kilometres away. The procession started at 10am and snaked through the roads of Mumbai to reach the mausoleum well after 3pm amid heavy security.