Hathras stampede: Self-styled godman Bhole Baba continues to elude police net

Baba’s name missing in FIR lodged by UP police against Sewadaar, unnamed organisers after 121 people died in stampede
 At least 121 people, including women and children, died due to suffocation and fatal injuries after a stampede broke out at a religious congregation in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district on July 2, 2024.
At least 121 people, including women and children, died due to suffocation and fatal injuries after a stampede broke out at a religious congregation in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district on July 2, 2024.(Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

LUCKNOW: The self-styled godman Narayan Saakar Hari alias ‘Bhole Baba’, who held a ‘Satsang Sabha’ in which 121 people lost their lives during a stampede in Phulrai village under Sikandrau tehsil of Hathras district on Tuesday, continues to remain at large, said the Uttar Pradesh Police.

According to Hathras deputy superintendent of police Sunil Kumar, the baba was yet to be brought into the police net amid the manhunt which was launched on Tuesday night. The UP Police raided the Ram Kutir Charitable Trust in Mainpuri district in search of him.

"We did not find Baba ji inside the campus...He is not here," said Sunil Kumar. Bhole Baba, whose pictures with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav are going viral on social media, has a sprawling ashram in Mainpuri, the native district of the SP chief.

Additional DG, Agra Zone, Anupam Kulshreshtha, said that seven districts under the Agra zone had tasked their special operations group (SoG) teams to nab the organizers of the ‘satsang’. “We are moving in a systematic manner, first we will catch the organizers of the event and then as the probe progresses, names of others will be added to the FIR,” said the officer when asked whether the Baba would be arrested.

Late on Tuesday night, the Uttar Pradesh Police registered an FIR against Bhole Baba’s Mukhya Sewadar Devprakash Madhukar and a number of unnamed organisers. But Bhole Baba’s name was missing in the FIR.

The FIR, lodged under Sections 105, 110, 126(a), 223 and 238 of Bharatiya Nyay Samhita (BNS), claims that over 2.5 lakh people from various districts had gathered for the Satsang whereas the organisers had sought permission for only 80,000 people.

The FIR also says that the bodyguards of Bhole Baba stopped the devotees who were rushing to take his blessings in the field and that led them to fall in a ditch over one another leading to the loss of so many lives. The UP Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar Singh had also confirmed overcrowding of the venue as a reason for the tragedy.

 At least 121 people, including women and children, died due to suffocation and fatal injuries after a stampede broke out at a religious congregation in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district on July 2, 2024.
Overcrowding, Bhole Baba's bodyguards blamed in FIR as Hathras stampede toll rises to 121

Meanwhile, the initial probe report of the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), who had given permission for an assembly of 80,000 people in Phulrai village, around 47 km from Hathras city, for the ‘Satsang Sabha’ where over 2.5 lakh people gathered, has held the personal security guards of Bhole Baba responsible for the stampede.

In the report, the SDM claims that a crowd of over two lakh devotees, three times more than what was permitted, had gathered in the pandal during the Satsang. After the ‘Satsang Sabha,’ when the devotees rushed towards the convoy of Bhole Baba to take his blessings, his personal security personnel and Sewadars began to push them away once Baba’s convoy reached the main road.

As per the details of the report submitted by the SDM to the Hathras DM, the Baba left the pandal around 1.40 pm leaving a massive crowd of men, women and children standing on the road linked to the National Highway-91 heading towards Etah, the adjoining district.

Consequent to the pushes by the Baba’s commandos, people started falling into the narrow furrow (slope) while descending from the road and rushing towards the open field in front of the venue. As the area was slippery due to rain and mud, the devotees, comprising mainly women, slipped into the furrow one over the other suffocating to death.

By the time, they were taken out, many had died and others were critically injured. Meanwhile, amid the commotion, the godman, known originally as Suraj Pal, a former constable in the UP police, left along with his Sewadars and security personnel.

Till Tuesday, the death toll was mentioned as 116. Among the victims, 89 were declared “brought dead” at a local hospital in Sikandrarau, while 27 others died on the way to Etah. On Wednesday morning, the death toll was revised to 121.

 At least 121 people, including women and children, died due to suffocation and fatal injuries after a stampede broke out at a religious congregation in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district on July 2, 2024.
Hathras stampede: Who is Bhole Baba, the preacher?

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