Stampede kills six in religious India festival

Pilgrims return home after the Ganga Sagar annual fair four hours before the stampede that killed six.
Pilgrims return home after the Ganga Sagar annual fair four hours before the stampede that killed six. PHOTO: EPA

KOLKATA (AFP) - A stampede in eastern India killed six women on Sunday (Jan 16, 2017) as devotees returning from a religious festival rushed to get onto a jetty, a minister said.

Some 1.5 million people had assembled at Gangasagar in West Bengal state to take a holy dip in the river on the occasion of the Hindu harvest festival of Makar Sakranti.

The devotees were on their way back from the two-day festival when the stampede broke out, local minister Manturam Pakhira said.

"Six women have died in the stampede while they were trying to cross a jetty near Gangasagar," Pakhira said.

Ten others were injured as the pilgrims rushed to board vessels to reach Kolkata, the state capital, he added.

Rescue workers launched a search operation to look for those who might have fallen into the river during the stampede, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

Thousands of devotees from across the country gather every year at Gangasagar, where the Ganges river flows into the sea, to take to the holy waters and pray at the temple of Hindu god Kapil Muni.

The stampede came a day after an overcrowded boat capsized in the Ganges river in neighbouring Bihar state, killing at least 26 people returning after celebrating the Makar Sakranti festival.

Stampedes at India's religious festivals are not uncommon with police and volunteer stewards often overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowds.

Last year, 24 people died after a stampede broke out in the Hindu holy town of Varanasi.