Bhole Ram, who sells tea at one end of the Ratangarh bridge near the Mata Sundari Mandir in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh, was at his shop at 7 am on Sunday, half an hour early.
It was the last day of the Navratras and he knew there would be a huge crowd. And sure enough, by 7.30 am, there were several thousand making their way to the temple.
What he didn’t know, or expect, was that he would soon witness more than 100 of those devotees being trampled to death in a stampede on the same bridge, some jumping off it into the Sindh river to save themselves.
“The policemen, fewer than 20 in number, were sitting at two ends of the bridge. There was nobody manning the middle. That was a huge part of the problem,” he said.
District officials said upwards of 20,000 people were making their way to the temple, about a tenth of whom were on the bridge at 8.30 am.
“I come here every year during Navratra, and for some reason the police allow tractor trolleys, which ferry devotees, to park on the bridge,” said Saheb Singh, whose sister was injured in the stampede. “I was on the side of the bridge near Ratangarh village, with the temple on the other side. Suddenly, the two of us heard shouts of ‘puliya toot rahi hai, aage bhago’ (the bridge is collapsing, run forward).
“And everyone started running. But in the next two minutes, there was a huge crowd coming back towards us as well. I somehow clung to the side of the bridge to avoid being sandwiched. My sister used her sari to jump off the bridge. Luckily, she only broke her foot.”
With his shop located on the other side, Bhole Ram said a lack of communication caused the push from that end of the bridge.
“When the 10 policemen, who were until then only sitting around, saw a huge bunch of people running towards them saying ‘bhaago’, they panicked and started caning people to control the crowd. Those in the front turned back,