21 killed in India stampede
(Monday, April 12, 2004 @ CNN)
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Twenty-one people have been killed in India in a stampede as people rushed to receive gifts of free clothing to mark a politician's birthday.
Local authorities at Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said the politician, Lalji Tandon, a member of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP party, was giving out saris, a traditional Indian dress, as part of the birthday celebration on Monday.
The victims were killed, local authorities said, when the crowd estimated to be more than 5,000 rushed forward to receive their gifts.
The stampede began when rumors spread through the crowd that there were no more saris to give away, The Associated Press reported.
Victims included eight women aged 45 to 60 years, and seven young girls who had lined up to receive saris, Dr. Lalit Saxena, one of the doctors who took the bodies to three city hospitals, told the news agency.
"We came with the hope that we would hear his speech. He celebrated his birthday and gave us death," Ketaki Devi, who ran out of the park to save herself, told reporters.
"I saw several women fall down. They didn't get up."
Monday afternoon, hundreds of sandals were strewn across the park and chairs were overturned. Thousands of saris still waiting to be given away lay near the stage in bundles.
"There were mostly old ladies from poor families who had come to get saris," eyewitness Renuka Sharma told AP.
"We tried to stop the distribution but before we could, everything went haywire and old women were trampled to death," said Brijendra Yadav, one of the organizers.
Indian politicians commonly give away food, liquor, blankets and other gifts at election time to attract crowds and win votes.