KOLKATA - At least 23 people, mostly poor women, were killed during a stampede in northern Bangladesh Friday after a crowd gathered for a Ramadan charity giveaway.
The incident took place in northern city Mymensingh around 5:00 a.m. when about 1,500 people jostled to enter a chewing tobacco factory compound through a narrow gate to receive clothing handouts.
Kamrul Islam, the officer in charge of the local police station said the incident would be investigated.
“We have arrested eight people including the owner of the factory [Shamim Talukdar, who organized the charity handout]. A police inquiry committee has already begun its work into the incident at the factory and by the beginning of next week the inquiry report will be in place,” Islam said to VOA.
From slums and nearby villages the people, mostly women, had waited through the night in front of the factory. When workers opened the factory gate for the clothing distribution the crowd surged forward.
“We have recovered 23 bodies so far, 21 of them are women. Two are little children. They all look very poor,” Emran Ali, a senior police officer of Mymensingh told VOA. “Some are lying injured in the hospital. Some bodies were taken away by their relatives immediately after the incident."
Ali said the final death toll could be higher.
Television footage from the site showed a chaotic scene with hundreds of torn sandals lying abandoned at the gate. As families gathered to retrieve the bodies, some blamed the charity organizers and the local police for the catastrophe.
Police officer Ali said that his force had not been told about the clothing distribution beforehand, nor that a large crowd had gathered, and so no officers were present.
He added that the factory management perhaps had had no idea that so many people would come for the giveaway.
Acts of charity
Acts of Islamic charity, known as zakat, are common towards the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
However, in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where one-quarter of the country’s 160 million people live below the poverty line, the zakat giveaways occasionally trigger fatal stampedes.
In 2002, around 40 people, mostly women and children, were killed in a stampede during a handout outside the gate of a garment factory in the northern Bangladesh town of Gaibandha.
Last year, two women were killed in another stampede at the distribution of zakat at a garment factory in the central Bangladesh district of Manikganj.