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The cost of feeding empty stomachs

By Rabia Ali

On the afternoon of September 14, 2009, in the holy month of Ramazan, around 700 women rushed off to a warehouse in Khohri Garden after hearing that a local trader was distributing free ration cards, flour and rice sacks to impoverished people. Little did these women know that the noble act of the philanthropist would lead them to a desperate struggle, ultimately resulting in a deadly stampede.

Around 18 women lost their lives, one of them being Parween’s 15-year-old niece, Nausheen, while several others were injured. A resident of Machchar Colony, Parween had come to the warehouse along with her relatives, thinking that Ramazan would pass easily once they get hold of essential items. “All of us made way to get the essentials items, but who knew that this disaster would befall us, snatching our loved ones from us, and making us shed tears for the rest of our lives,” Parween told Kolachi.

Parween said that the stampede took place when some women tried to enter the building through the exit gate, pushing and shoveling one another so as to ensure that they would be the first ones to grab the free sacks. In this struggle, a stampede broke out, women and children were pushed against one another, and eventually, trampled in the narrow staircase of the warehouse. “It was chaos all over the place. Women and children were packed against each other. My own teenage daughter came under attack, and had a neck injury.”

Meanwhile, one-by-one, the women lost control, and fell down due to suffocation while the rest wailed and screamed for help. According to eye-witnesses, ambulances reached the spot fifteen minutes after the tragedy took place — the reason for which was cited as narrow lanes and the huge rush of passersby, who had gathered on the spot. “If the ambulances had reached there on time, many lives would have been saved,” Parween claimed.

While a case was registered against the trader, Haji Chaudhry Iftikhar, he was absolved of all charges, albeit with the condition that he pays compensation to the families who lost their loved ones, or were injured. His exoneration was bedded in the fact that he had been conducting this exercise every Ramazan for the past few years, with witnesses claiming that Iftikhar had no hand in this disaster. “Haji Sahib has been conducting this practice since the past 25 years. Every Ramazan, he distributes ration free of cost, but this time, bad luck struck him. He had no ill-intention to cause damage,” an eye-witness said.

“Greed had overcome the women present there. If only had there been more tolerance, such an incident wouldn’t have taken place. All this is the fault of the government, however, as it has failed to control rising inflation, which has made people run from pillar to post for cheaper packets of rice and flour,” Parween lamented.

Source: The News