close
MAINPURI: A portrait of former police constable-turned-Hindu preacher Bhole Baba is displayed on the terrace of his ashram at Bichhawan village in Mainpuri district, in India’s Uttar Pradesh state on July 4, 2024. – AFP
MAINPURI: A portrait of former police constable-turned-Hindu preacher Bhole Baba is displayed on the terrace of his ashram at Bichhawan village in Mainpuri district, in India’s Uttar Pradesh state on July 4, 2024. – AFP

Indian preacher not hiding after stampede: Lawyer

MAINPURI: The self-styled Indian preacher whose latest sermon ended in a deadly stampede is not hiding from police, his lawyer told AFP on Thursday, without disclosing the guru’s whereabouts. Bhole Baba’s prayer meeting near the northern city of Hathras saw the deaths of 121 people, the vast majority women, after a rush to the exits among the 250,000 devotees who came to watch him preach.

The former police officer-turned-spiritual leader has not been seen in public since but local media reports suggested he had retreated to his nearby monastery, the doors of which have been chained shut by supporters inside, to bar public access.

Baba’s lawyer A.P. Singh told AFP that his client was not to blame for Tuesday’s disaster and was not on the run. “There is no reason for him to hide. He has never hidden in his life,” Singh said. “He believes in the law. He is following police directions.”

The lawyer said that “anti-social elements” in the crowd were responsible for the stampede and that Baba would participate in a police investigation into the disaster. “An investigation is going on. We will participate,” he said.

Singh declined to confirm Baba’s exact location to AFP beyond saying he remained in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to his monastery in the city of Mainpuri and the nearby site of the stampede.

A police charge sheet issued after the stampede named several organizers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba’s name was not among them. Around 20 police officers were on guard outside the monastery on Thursday but had not entered the sprawling premises, which are also ringed by a five-metre-high (15-foot-high) wall.

India is home to innumerable religious gurus or “godmen”, whose devotees beseech them for miracles and donate money and possessions as a token of loyalty. Baba, whose current whereabouts are unknown, was barely known to the wider Indian public before Tuesday’s disaster.

But in his native state of Uttar Pradesh, he had cultivated a large audience of worshippers, the vast majority of whom were women from poor and marginalized backgrounds. Authorities had only given permission for 80,000 people to attend the sermon, less than a third of the number that eventually turned up.

‘He cured my disease’

Officials initially blamed a dust storm for sparking panic, while police later said the stampede began when “followers started to collect earth” from the ground where the preacher had passed. One of Baba’s devoted followers, standing outside the locked monastery’s gates to show his support, told AFP that blame for the stampede lay squarely at the feet of the preacher’s audience. “They were told to sit quietly and leave in an orderly fashion. What was the need to create a stampede?” said Rishipal Chaudhary, 40. “These deaths are the fault of those who died and their family members.”

Chaudhary said he was looking forward to Baba emerging in public again and expected that an even larger crowd than Tuesday’s sermon would arrive to show their support. “He cured my disease when no doctor or medicine could,” he said. “He will open these gates whenever he feels like. If you think he can’t see or hear what everyone is doing, you are wrong.” Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses. In 2008, 224 pilgrims were killed and more than 400 were injured in a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur. – AFP

By Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed Al-Sabah AAIOT Chairman of the Board of Directors The Arabian Gulf countries are known for their vast oil reserves and wealth, but they are also facing serious challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, and corruptio...
By Abdullah Al-Mutawa In recent years, Kuwait has observed a noticeable decline in public taste, as evidenced by shifts in our cultural, artistic, and social life. This trend poses a significant challenge to our nation’s cultural identity and inte...