Thousands of pilgrims panicked by false rumors of a bomb stampeded at a Hindu temple in western In-dia yesterday, killing at least 168 people in the crush to escape, of-fi cials said.
More than 12,000 people gath-ered at the temple at dawn to celebrate a Hindu festival in the historic city of Jodhpur when the stampede occurred.
The temple fl oors were slick with coconut milk as thousands of devotees broke coconuts as re-ligious offerings, causing pilgrims to slip and fall as they scrambled to escape, said Ramesh Vyas, a pil-grim who was standing in line.
Vyas said it was the false ru-mors of a bomb that sparked the chaos and that tensions were high because India has been hit by a spate of recent bomb attacks.
At least 168 people were killed in the stampede, said Naresh Pal Gangwar, the district collector.
TV footage showed dozens of bodies lying on the sidewalk, while nearby frantic people tried to revive unconscious devotees, slapping their faces and pressing on their chests. Others dragged people by their arms and legs, running down a ramp that leads to the temple inside the 15th century Mehrangarh fort that overlooks the town.
One child cried over her father’s lifeless body, wailing “Daddy, please get up.”
Dead bodies were piled high in a local hospital, while the in-jured writhed in pain, an eyewit-ness said.
The injured have been admit-ted to half a dozen hospitals in Jodhpur.
Yesterday marked the fi rst day of Navratra, a nine-day Hindu festi-val to honor the Mother Goddess.
“Some people fell on a ramp leading to the temple and it caused more casualties,” Dasoth said, adding that a barricade separating women and children from men had broken, leading to more casualties.
“We will defi nitely conduct an inquiry and if we fi nd people were negligent, we will defi nitely take action,” Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters.
Last month, a similar crush out-side a Hindu temple in the moun-tains of northern India killed at least 145 pilgrims.
Meanwhile, in the eastern state of Orissa, fresh violence fl ared yester-day between Hindus and Christians, leaving at least one person dead and eight wounded, an offi cial said.
The unrest came one day after both Hindus and Christians in the state had pledged to keep the peace following appeals by offi cials.
The violence was the latest in a string of clashes that erupted last month and have left more than 30 people dead and scores of churches destroyed.
The attacks on churches, prayer halls and Catholic-run schools be-gan following the murder of re-vered Hindu holy man and Hindu nationalist Swami Laxamananda Saraswati and four of his followers on Aug. 23.
The killings remain unsolved.
“At least one woman died and eight were injured, four critically,” senior district offi cial Hemanta Swain said.
Meanwhile in New Dehli, a na-tional Christian group called for protection, saying the church was under attack.
“The feeling of most of our peo-ple is that of insecurity because the government has not been able to protect them from atrocities,” said the head of the National United Christian Forum and Archbishop of Delhi, Vincent Concessao.
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