Religious ‘adventures’ have always claimed more lives than other forms of adventures like mountaineering, river rafting, caving, kayaking, etc. Pilgrimages are fit to be called adventures as most of them involve life risks. The pilgrims are well aware of the risk factor. Yet, we see thousands, including ailing and old, climbing the peaks of freezing Amarnath. These pilgrims may not climb the mountain in the name of mountaineering, but they are no less mountaineers! It is the spirit of adventure in them that makes even octogenarians risk their lives for reaching the ‘goal’. The pilgrims visiting Mecca or Kumbh Mela know they are among millions thronging the small place at a time. They know the history of stampedes too. Yet, they take the risk. Adventurism again!
The stampede at Mecca on September 24 claiming over 700 lives was the biggest casualty in 25 years. It was also one of the deadliest stampedes in history. Most of them were in Saudi Arabia (Mecca) and India. Most stampedes involved religious festivals. The death of 1,426 pilgrims, mostly Malaysians and Indonesians, in a crush in 1990 inside a tunnel leading to Mecca’s holy sites was the biggest stampede casualty in recent history. In 2005, around 1,000 Shia pilgrims were trampled to death or drown in the Tigris river after rumours of a suicide bombing sparked panic. In 2010, over 375 people died in a stampede on a bridge on Tonle Sap river during celebrations of the annual Water Festival. The Stoning of Satan ritual has seen some of the biggest stampedes in Mecca and Mina. In India, stampedes are a regular event especially during Kumbh Mela and other religious festivals.
Humans are adventurists by nature. That’s why they reached this stage, leaving far behind all other creatures! A sportsman and a pilgrim sometimes do the same adventure, albeit with different objectives. Both carry the same risk. Nations, who lost their citizens in the stampede and in a recent crane crash in Mecca, are now blaming the authorities of Saudi Arabia of inadequate arrangements. The Saudis did not have to face the embarrassment of stampede for nearly a decade as they improved the facilities. They put a ceiling of pilgrims as well. Yet, the fact remains that adventure sometimes comes at a cost. A sea of humanity trying to reach a small place at a time carries a big risk. The numbers must come down further, to avoid such casualty.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 26, 2015)