In India, the Bihar “stampede” was a planned massacre of elder women

Kartik Purnima is a holy festival celebrated by Sikh, Jain and Hindu people. Yesterday, thousands gathered in the village of Simaria, in Bihar, to celebrate. They went to Simaria to dip into the Ganges River. Something happened. The press and the State called it a stampede. Three elderly women, each reported to be in their 80s, were killed. The State says the women died of suffocation. That may be the forensic determination, but those women, and so many others in stampedes – from Jakarta to New Delhi to KwaNongoma to Karachi to Abidjan to Valley Stream to Lahore to Johannesburg to Mymensingh to Khayelitsha – were part of the plan. Yet again, the gender of stampede is women, and yet again, the world takes little or no notice. Just another sudden rush, just another panic, just another day in which women `naturally’ dominate morbidity and mortality rates. Just another day.

In 1999, a “high powered committee”, established by the Indian government, released a report on disasters. They determined five categories: water and climate; geological; biological; nuclear and industrial; and accidental. They described accidental catastrophe as “urban and forest fires, oil spill, mine flooding incidents, collapse of huge building structures, bomb blasts, air, road and rail mishaps, boat capsizing and stampede during congregations.” None of these are “accidental”, since all are preventable. Since that report, the State has done less than nothing to “mitigate” the possibility of “stampedes”. In the intervening eighteen years, they have expressed “concern” at “the recurring stampedes at places of mass gathering, including religious places, and typically ad-hoc responses to those”, and issued “crowd managementguidelines, with absolutely no force and little promotion. At the same time, India’s National Management Authority lists three categories under “Man-Made Disaster”: nuclear, biological, chemical. No stampede, no crowd control, and no concern.

Yesterday, in Bihar, thousands of devotees passed through capillary alleys barely wide enough to allow passage to hundreds. The result was predictable, and the State did nothing. That was not a stampede in Bihar yesterday. Instead, three elderly women were massacred. Now, after decades of doing nothing, the State claims concern and pretends to act, but it will not acknowledge its own guilt. There was no accident. There was no stampede. Just another day.

Scattered slippers after the event

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Tribune of India / PTI) (Photo Credit 2: Scroll / PTI)

The Mymensingh and Khayelitsha “stampedes” were planned massacres of women

In this 2011 file photo, women mourn over their relative who died in a stampede triggered by a fire scare at a garment factory in Dhaka.

In the past two weeks, “stampedes” took the lives of at least 33 people, 31 women and two children, in South Africa and Bangladesh. Yet again, the death toll among adults was exclusively, 100% women, and yet again the world will look on the pile of women’s corpses in shock and amazement, as we did in September 2009, when women were killed in stampedes in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and South Africa; or in January 2012 when women were killed in stampedes in Pakistan and South Africa. Each time, despite the gender of the dead and of the event, the fact of this being an assault on women is erased.

Today, in the northern Bangladeshi city, Mymensingh, hundreds of “poor and emaciated” women gathered outside a garment factory owner’s home to pick up free clothing. Someone fell, others fell, and then the rush ensued. Thus far, 25 bodies have been recovered, 23 women, two children. Fifty women have been sent to hospital. A scan of the world’s headlines on this event shows one headline that acknowledges this salient gender feature: “Bangladesh stampede leaves 22 women and child dead”. The rest either cite a number – “Stampede at Bangladesh clothes handout kills 23” – or refer to the clothes giveaway – “23 Zakat cloth seekers killed in Mymensingh stampede” – or mention people – “25 People Killed in Bangladesh Stampede”. Only one, that I’ve found, acknowledges the women. Why? What is so terrifying about saying 23, or however many, women were killed?

In Khayelitsha, in South Africa, two weeks ago, a gunshot at Osi’s Tavern provoked a rush from the tavern. It was 3 in the morning, and the tavern was crowded. It had only one exit, one staircase. The staircase collapsed. Six women were killed on the spot. Two women were killed on their to hospital. The women’s ages ranged from 15 and 23.

In some ways, two seemingly different events end up with the same morbid mathematics of gender: women were killed.

There was no stampede in Mymensingh today, and there was no stampede in Khayelitsha last month. There was a massacre of women. Say it. Women were killed. Now the State steps in, once the women’s corpses have piled up sufficiently, and claims to act, but it will never acknowledge the simple truth. There was no accident. There was indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of women, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

In Lahore, in Johannesburg, there was no stampede

In the past two days, four women have died in what the press has called `stampedes.’

There was a concert Monday in Lahore, Pakistan. It was organized by a private college. The crowd was mostly young people, college students. At some point after the concert, something happened, the crowd tried to leave, there was only one door and even less organization, and … three young women—Farah Nawaz, Maheen Naseem Abbas, 17 years old, and Sadia Batool—were crushed to death. It’s a common enough occurrence, around the world.

On Tuesday, in South Africa, universities registered students who, for whatever reasons, had missed the earlier registration dates. Often the reason is students come from historically disenfranchised communities where there’s little or no expectation of their successfully pursuing further education. That too is a common enough situation, around the world.

As in past years, the lines were endlessly long, but the number of available slots were finite. Painfully, tragically so. Excitement, tension, anticipation, apprehension, were high. When the gates opened at the University of Johannesburg, the people rushed forward. In the rush, people were injured, and one woman, the mother of a prospective student, was killed. There were many mothers in the crowd, assisting their children. Many mothers, many children were injured. At least 22 are counted as injured, but those are only the visible injuries.

Both incidents, and especially the South African incident, have been widely, even universally, described as stampedes.

What exactly is a `stampede’, and how does a crowd of people, of human beings, morph into a stampede? And why is it the case that women and girls are more often than not those who suffer the violence of so-called stampedes?

Stampede is a relatively new word, and it seems to be a North American invention, another gift the United States has bestowed upon the world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was coined early in the 1800s. Cowboys in the United States borrowed the Mexican word, estampido, which means crash, explosion, or report of a firearm, and estampida, which means a stampede of cattle or horses. It was an early example of transnational vaquero cowboy culture.

Stampede, or stompado, was a “sudden rush and flight of a body of panic-stricken cattle” or horses. Later, stampede came to mean a “sudden or unreasoning rush or flight of persons in a body or mass”.

At its inception, stampede meant a thundering, powerful, dangerous herd of animals. Today, when referring to people, it means a mass of people who are threatened and in flight. At the beginning, a stampede was about virility, big roaring animals and big riding cowboys.

When people stampeded, that was panic. In fact, the Spanish translation of human stampede is pánico. Panic. Sudden, wild, unreasoning, excessive, at a loss and out of control. And the term for mass panic is hysteria, the women’s condition: “Women being much more liable than men to this disorder, it was originally thought to be due to a disturbance of the uterus and its functions”.  Hysteric: “belonging to the womb, suffering in the womb”.

It doesn’t matter who is trampled in the event called a stampede. What began as an articulation of masculinity, the enraged capacity to destroy all in its path, has become the helpless, or `feminine’, implosion of self. What began as a roar has become somehow a whimper. When you read that a group was in a stampede, know this. Stampede is not a neutral word. Stampede is gendered, and the gender is woman.

There was no stampede in Lahore, there was no stampede in Johannesburg. Words matter. In both instances, educational institutions failed … and women died … again.

 

(Photo Credit: Adrian de Kock/thestar.co.za)

The gender of stampede

There was a stampede in Jakarta, Indonesia today. Few agencies have reported it, I’ve found only one. Thirteen people are reported injured, and it is reported that the thousands who gathered for free food and cash handouts, to mark the end of Ramadan, were overwhelmingly women and children.

Human stampedes are reported throughout the year, everywhere. In the past week or so, four human stampedes have been reported, Jakarta’s being the most recent.

In New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 10, “Tragedy struck a government secondary school in Indian national capital New Delhi Sept 10 when five girls were killed and 27 other students injured, six of them very critically, in a stampede. The incident occurred when students were trying to make their way up and down a narrow staircase when they were asked to shift classrooms during an examination in the Khajuri Khas Senior Secondary School….Some students said they were asked to shift classes as certain classrooms were water-logged due to incessant rains since Sept 9 night. One of the girls, going down the staircase, fell leading to the stampede….All but one of the 27 injured students were girls.” In the end, 34 students were reported injured, five killed.

That was Thursday. On Saturday, in KwaNongoma, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, “Tragedy struck at the annual Royal Reed Dance … when one of the maidens was crushed to death during a stampede that broke out following a scramble for promotional caps. Another maiden is in a critical condition while 10 others were seriously injured as the event turned into pandemonium.”

That was Saturday. On Monday, September 14, in Karachi, Pakistan, “Eighteen people were suffocated to death during a stampede here on Monday as poverty-stricken women battled for a free bag of flour being distributed by a philanthropist in Khohri Garden. The dead reportedly include a number of children as well. Meanwhile, several unconscious women were rushed to the emergency ward of the Civil Hospital in Karachi.” Actually, it was twenty women and girls killed, and fifteen were injured. Or was it at least 25? At any rate, the women and girls were waiting for free food.

Stampedes occur all the time. It could be sports events, such as in March of this year at the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Côte d’Ivoire at a football, or soccer, match when a wall collapsed and the crush killed 22 and injured over 130. It could be the proverbial fire in a crowded theater or club, as happened in Bangkok this New Year’s, when at least 59 people were killed and over 200 were injured. Or it could be a sale at a big store, like Wal-Mart, as happened late last year, in Valley Stream, New York, not far from New York City. That was on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when people couldn’t wait any longer and broke through the doors, trampling a worker, Jdimytai Damour, to death. It happens all the time.

All of these incidents were described as stampedes. In the most recent, the dead and injured were all or almost all women and girls, but that is not my point here today. What exactly is a stampede, and how does a crowd crush become a stampede?

Stampede is a relatively new word, and it seems to be North American. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was coined early in the 1800s, Cowboys in the United States borrowed the Spanish word, estampido, which means crash, explosion, or report of a firearm, and estampida, which means a stampede of cattle or horses. It was an early example of transnational vaquero cowboy culture. The word didn’t come from Spain, it came from Mexico. Stampede, or stompado, was a “sudden rush and flight of a body of panic-stricken cattle” or horses. Later, stampede came to mean a “sudden or unreasoning rush or flight of persons in a body or mass”.

Here’s the thing. At its inception, stampede meant a thundering herd, powerful, dangerous. Today, when referring to people, it means a mass of people in flight who are threat mostly to themselves. How does that happen? Here’s one possibility. At the beginning, stampede was virile, masculine, big roaring animals and big riding cowboys. People, on the other hand, that was panic. In fact, the word in Spanish for the phenomenon of people rushing as a crowd and crushing one another in the process is precisely pánico. Panic. Sudden, wild, unreasoning, excessive, at a loss and out of control. And what is the term for mass panic?  Hysteria, the women’s condition: “Women being much more liable than men to this disorder, it was originally thought to be due to a disturbance of the uterus and its functions”.  Hysteric: “belonging to the womb, suffering in the womb”.

It doesn’t matter who is trampled in the event called a stampede. What began as an articulation of masculinity, the enraged capacity to destroy all in its path, has become the embodiment of womanhood, the helpless implosion of self. What began as a roar has become somehow a whimper. When you read that a group was in a stampede, know this. It is not a neutral word. It is a gender, and the gender is woman.

And those who were in the stampede? Writing of the trampling to death of Jdimytai Damour, one person commented, “I’m particularly troubled by reports that police are thinking about charging individual members of the crowd. When people behind you start pushing you forward, there is often nothing you can do. And there’s a real fear that if you try to resist, you too will be trampled. Part of the tragedy is that there are undoubtedly people in that crowd who know they stepped on something that day, or who, in their excitement, spurred on the surge. These thoughts may haunt them for many years.”  Those who trampled will be haunted, those who lost loved ones will be haunted. The rest of us, we are meant to be haunted by the gender of stampede.

(Photo Credit: NDTV)