Wednesday 21 March 2018

At least 18 die in India stampede as mourners paid homage to spiritual leader

Hospital workers carry the dead body of a victim killed in a stampede outside a morgue in Mumbai
Hospital workers carry the dead body of a victim killed in a stampede outside a morgue in Mumbai
Dawoodi Bohra Muslims participate in the funeral procession of their spiritual leader Syedna Mohamed Burhanuddin in Mumbai
At least 18 people died in a stampede in Mumbai early on Saturday after thousands gathered to mourn the death of the 102-year-old leader of a Muslim sect

A pre-dawn stampede has killed 18 people as tens of thousands of people gathered to mourn the death of a Muslim spiritual leader in India's financial capital, police said.

At least 40 other people were injured in the stampede when mourners thronged the home of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the head of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community, Mumbai police commissioner Satya Pal Singh said.

Burhanuddin died yesterday at the age of 102.

Thousands of white-clad mourners had thronged the streets of Malabar Hill, an upmarket neighborhood in south Mumbai. Many were wailing and crying as they inched forward through the narrow road.

Mr Singh said the stampede occurred when the gates leading to the spiritual leader's house were closed at about 1am. The crowds surged forward, with many people getting crushed near the gates and with no way to escape.

Mr Singh acknowledged that crowd management around the Syedna's home was poor and said police at the scene were badly outnumbered by the huge number of mourners.

"We didn't think the crowd would be so great," Mr Singh said. "Also, it's an emotional occasion when police cannot take harsh measures to push back the crowd."

The Syedna had succeeded his father in 1965 and led the community for nearly five decades. He was well known as a promoter of education and spiritual values in his community.

Tens of thousands of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims from all over India and several other countries headed to Mumbai for his funeral.

Across Mumbai, shops and businesses owned by Bohra Muslims were closed in homage to their leader.

Deadly stampedes are fairly common during India's often-chaotic religious gatherings and festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with few safety or crowd control measures.

In October, more than 110 people were killed in a stampede at a Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh state in central India. More than 220 people were killed in a 2008 stampede at the Chamunda Devi Hindu temple inside Jodhpur's picturesque Mehrangarh Fort.


Press Association

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