“Baba Should Come, Heal Us”: After Hathras Stampede, Faith Turns Into Rage

The Hathras stampede tragedy has a number – 123; 123 lives lost, many families devastated. The political blame game and the rumble of government machinery often drowns out the wails of bereaved families.

For those who lost their relatives in the stampede at a ‘satsang’ of Narayan Sakar Hari aka ‘Bhole Baba’, even mourning is on pause. They go from one mortuary to the other to identify bodies. When they find their own, there is loss. When they don’t, they head to the next one. The injured are scattered across multiple hospitals, making it a daunting task for their relatives to find them.

Many Still Missing

Urmila Devi came to the ‘satsang’ with her 16-year-old granddaughter, and they separated when the chaos broke out. Since Wednesday night, the elderly woman has been to three district hospitals in Hathras and Etah to look for her, but without any success.

“I looked in the pandal, screamed out her name. When I did not find her, I started visiting the hospitals. I have not found her yet,” she told NDTV yesterday.

Urmila Devi does not have a phone and sent word to her elder son through an acquaintance. “I don’t know if he even knows his daughter is missing.”

NDTV found some people looking for a woman relative. They had been to hospitals in Aligarh, Hathras and Etah, but could not find her.

Anger Against Godman

The stampede at the ‘satsang’, the police say, broke out when the self-styled godman was leaving and his followers rushed to collect dust stirred up by his car. The godman’s guards pushed some of the followers, triggering the stampede. Two days on, ‘Bhole Baba’ remains missing and has even put out a statement from an unknown location; his lawyer has said he will cooperate with investigators.

For some of his ardent followers who are now in hospital, anger is replacing faith. “If the baba really has powers and cares about us, he should come here and heal us. He should help us in treatment,” said a woman who fractured her hand in the chaos. Her five-year-old grandson was also injured and is recovering in the same hospital.

Binod, a resident of Hathras, has torn down posters of ‘Bhole baba’ at his home as he tries to cope with the loss of his whole family – his mother Jaya, wife Rajkumari and daughter Bhumi died in the stampede. “I was away, I came to know about the stampede in the evening. I rushed home to find they are all dead,” he said, breaking into tears.

Where Does The Buck Stop

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a political blame game has begun and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has said the investigation will also focus on whether a “conspiracy” is behind the tragedy. Akhilesh Yadav, chief of main opposition Samajwadi Party, has held the BJP government fully responsible for the incident.

The godman’s lawyer has blamed “anti-social elements”, insisting that it was a “planned conspiracy”.

The FIR does not name the ‘godman’ at all, and his aide and the event’s main organiser is the main accused. The FIR also appears to clear the local administration of all responsibility and blames the organisers for mismanagement. The state government, however, has assured that no one who is guilty will be spared.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) is probing the incident. The state government has also set up a three-member panel headed by a retired High Court judge to investigate the stampede tragedy.

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