Nirm-ala Devi, 55, was an ardent follower of Shri Ram Sharma Acharya, founder of the Akhil Vishwa Gayatri Pariwar, whose 100th birthday celebrations were on at the Shantikunj Ashram in Haridwar. Not a day passed when she did not offer prayers to him.
On Tuesday, Nirmala breathed her last at her guru’s ashram. “My wife was very religious. She never ate without offering prayers to her guru. Even today, she had not eaten anything before going to the ashram,” said her inconsolable husband, 57-year-old Satyawan.
The couple had come to the temple town of Haridwar from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, around 500 km away. “Everyone wants to visit this holy city. One does not associate this place with sorrow or death, least of all in the midst of such grand celebrations,” said Satyawan.
Satyawan was not alone. Several other families were seen mourning for their near and dear ones. At least 16 people were killed and nearly 60 others were injured in the stampede that broke out at 10.30am.
“We were climbing stairs to cross a mini bridge outside the ashram. Suddenly, a woman tripped and fell. There was commotion as those behind continued to push forward,” said 48-year-old Anil Verma. “The situation soon went out of control and people began falling over one another.”
Ramchandra Gupta, 65, and Manoj Kumar, 62, were close friends and had come to participate in the five-day event together. But Kumar will be returning home alone. Gupta died at the stampede site.
“People fell on each other and the resulting stampede killed two in front of me. I don't even know if my mother, who was shouting for help, is dead or alive,” said 38-year-old Sheila Sharma.
People were seen running helter-skelter in search of their relatives when disaster struck.
“They were like piles of clothes on each other’s backs,” said another survivor.