Many youths who travelled on board the Himgiri Express that turned fatal for 18 youths in Uttar Pradesh say they were either forced to sit on the roof of the train by police or did so out of fear of security personnel.
The victims were crushed to death by an overbridge at Shajahanpur, 60 km from Bareilly, as they sat on the top of Himgiri Express. And many even say they were forced to clamber on to the roofs of goods trains.
"Police and other security personnel charged at us, directing us to leave Bareilly by any means. It was only because of the fear of police and security personnel that hundreds of students climbed on to Himgiri Express in Bareilly," Pramod Kumar, a resident of Bihar, said.
On Wednesday he was waiting at the Charbagh railway station here to catch a train back home.
He was among around 100,000 aspirants from 11 states who had converged for a recruitment drive of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in Bareilly.
According to them, after they protested mismanagement of the drive, police and security personnel directed them to leave Bareilly at the earliest and drove them towards railway and bus stations.
"The men in khaki bundled us into train coaches…When some of us politely told them that the train was already packed with passengers and that there was not a single seat left, the security men directed us to climb on to the roof of the train," alleged Kumar.
Shajahanpur is 180 km from Lucknow.
Significantly, it was not just the Himgiri Express. Candidates claimed they were even forced to climb atop wagons of goods trains.
"The security men were just not willing to listen us…We pleaded with them, but many of the ITBP aspirants had to climb on the Himgiri Express roof while others preferred sitting on top of goods trains passing the area," Raju Kumar, who had come from Bhadohi for the recruitment drive, said.
Kumar and his two cousins who accompanied him for the drive were among those who sat atop a goods train in their bid to leave Bareilly.
Pankaj Yadav, another ITBP aspirant and a native of Sultanpur, said: "You tell me, what's our fault? People can say the aspirants invited the accident. But tell me what would you have done if you faced a similar situation…We climbed on the train to avoid the wrath of security personnel."
Govind Kumar, another youth who hailed from Bihar, said: "I managed to enter one of the coaches of Himgiri Express. When the train started moving towards Lucknow from Shajahanpur, I noticed several students coming down from the train one by one."
"At that time I thought the students were jumping from the roof. Then suddenly I felt blood dropping on my clothes…That's when I realised that an accident has occurred."
Candidates also alleged that rescue operations at the accident site started very late, prompting angry youths to burn a coach.
"There was no one from the government to help us…We carried out rescue operations by bringing down youths from the roof ourself. Police and government railway police arrived more than one hour after the accident took place," said Ramakant Devrat, an ITBP aspirant from Azamgarh.
A top police official said he would look into the allegations.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Prakash D. said, "The foremost thing is that travelling on the train roof is not legal. But this aspect had not been brought to my knowledge until now. You ask the names of the policemen whom the students accuse of forcing them to climb atop the train and I will take necessary action."