Monday, February 11, 2013

Crowd Crush Kills 39 at Gigantic Hindu Festival

Flying over India at night in the '70s, I was blessed to wake up and suddenly see millions of fires on the ground as though the whole country were alight. The annual Diwali or Festival of Light was astronomical or rather astrological.

I am reading a book entitled In Spite of The Gods and can understand a wee bit the following:
“We have a dip here and then live happily for the rest of the year,” said Shaish Narayan, 62, a woodworker who first took part in the Kumbh when he was 5. “I put my faith in Mother Ganges.”

“We have a dip here and then live happily for the rest of the year,” said Shaish Narayan, N. K. Auddy, a consulting engineer from Kolkata, was taking part in his first Kumbh because his daughter recently gave birth to his first grandchild, and he was hoping for a divine blessing for the child. “I want him to have a good future,” Mr. Auddy said.

Government officials estimated that 10 million pilgrims were encamped in Allahabad on Saturday night, with 20 million to 30 million expected to bathe by Monday.

If those figures are even close to being accurate, it is as if the entire population of Texas decided to visit an area the size of Savannah, Ga., all on the same weekend.

About 80 million pilgrims — roughly the population of Germany — are expected at some point in the Kumbh’s 55-day run. By comparison, 3.1 million people visited Mecca in Saudi Arabia during last year’s annual pilgrimage, the hajj. Each successive Kumbh breaks the record for the largest gathering in human history.

Many stay in a huge tent city built on riverbanks that were underwater as recently as October. Its inhabitants have access to drinking water, public toilets, good health care and consistent electricity — none of which India has been able to reliably deliver anywhere else.

The precautions and amenities are intended to prevent the stampedes and plagues that have so worried government officials. About 70,000 government employees provide security, sprinkle insecticide, sweep up excrement and spray bleach. But it was not enough to avert a tragedy on Sunday.

The stampede was set off by railway delays, shoddy infrastructure and overcrowding, several witnesses said. Train service was severely delayed during the early evening, they said, leaving more and more passengers stranded in the small station.
I for one lived through four Saudi hajjeneen in Jidda and remember that each year the number of pilgrims would rise another several hundred thousand. The Saudis with their unlimited resources built huge reception areas and an entire city to house the pilgrims, though the Quran enjoins the pilgrims to live in complete simplicity.

I say 'lived through' because the pilgrims came from everywhere between and including China to Senegal---and brought with them the diseases that were on the current epidemic list.

Because they carried germs, microbes, viruses spread from and to their suffering comrades from elsewhere to all ends of the Muslim world and beyond.

Including myself, who survived nasty bouts of flu, heavy colds and a variety of other ills every year.

I can only imagine what the gigantic hordes at Allahabad will carry home with them.

P.S. The trains are about the only public service in India that are punctual.

Perhaps a larger and more commodious railway station might be in order???

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