Stampede. Crowd management. Not a national strength, certainly. The unfortunate stampede in Allahabad during the Kumbh has once again made us think about how we behave in a crowd and how under-prepared authorities are to deal with such situations. To shrug and say this will happen is not acceptable!
On Republic Day this year, as we made our way to see the parade at India Gate, we experienced something akin to a stampede, a mini-stampede if you will. How it happened might give us a clue on what is awry in the handling of these situations.
So here we are, two couples with their kids, one of whom is a one year old baby and my friend is pregnant with her second. There are no clear signs on how to get from your parking to where your seating is. At one point, there is a barricade with a very narrow gap in it. The crowds surge towards this little gap. I hear people saying “dhakka do! dhakka do!” (push! push!). I panic, move to position myself behind my pregnant friend. Yell at a young man for pushing. I see Udai stumble over uneven ground. I manage to stop him from falling. I do not know where Rahul and Aadyaa are exactly.
In all this, the policemen near by are doing nothing to help. Instead they keep telling us the gates are going to shut soon and we must hurry!
Even at that time, I remember us discussing how idiotic their attitude was. They did not seem to have any training or skills in “managing” a crowd. Worse, they had no inclination to do; apparently it was ok for people to fall over each other, push and shove. It came right for us in the end but it was a few moments of sheer terror.
Clearly, controlling is not the same as managing in such a situation, though in this case the police weren’t doing either. In the context of experiences at protests in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape as well as outside SRCC when Narendra Modi was speaking there and in the context right now of curfew in sensitive areas like Kashmir as well as for dealing with huge gatherings like the Kumbh, it becomes imperative for the police to have a strategy that encompasses aspects like proper signages, volunteers who can guide people, proper communication as well as working with other involved agencies like the Railways in the Kumbh context. I remember this was done decently during the Commonwealth Games by using college students as volunteers. It can be done, we can do it; but we must have the will and appreciate the value of human life!