Indian preacher at centre of stampede disaster ‘distressed’

In his first public statement following the tragedy, an Indian preacher whose most recent sermon resulted in a fatal stampede declared on Saturday morning that he was “deeply distressed.”

Following a rush to the exits among the 250,000 devotees who had gathered to hear Bhole Baba preach, 121 people—the bulk of them women—died during his prayer meeting near the northern city of Hathras on Tuesday.

Seven other people who were involved in organizing the gathering have been arrested, and the former police officer who turned spiritual leader has not been seen in public since.

A police report issued after the stampede named several organisers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba’s name was not among them.

In a video statement aired by Indian broadcasters, Bhole Baba said that he had faith that those responsible for the disaster would be punished.

“May God give us the strength to bear this pain,” he added.

The former police constable turned preacher, who was clad totally in white in keeping with all of his public appearances, did not immediately make it known where he was preaching.

He wasn’t hiding from the police, his attorney told AFP on Thursday, but he wouldn’t say where he was.

More than three times as many followers attended the prayer meeting as the event’s legal permits allowed. There were 250,000 in attendance.

Baba’s attorney said that the rush was caused by “anti-social elements” in the crowd.

Local media reports suggested he had retreated to his nearby monastery, the gates of which have been chained shut by supporters inside to bar public access.

Following the stampede, some 20 police officers stood watch outside the monastery; they had not yet entered the expansive grounds, which are encircled by a wall that rises to a height of five meters (15 feet).

Seven organizers of the prayer group have been taken into custody by the police, and the incident’s circumstances are being looked into by a court probe.

India has a terrible history of fatal accidents at religious gatherings brought on by incompetent crowd control and security breaches.

In 2008, a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur resulted in 224 pilgrim deaths and over 400 injuries.

This article has been posted by a News Hour Correspondent. For queries, please contact through [email protected]
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