1994 Gowari stampede
Memorial of the Adivasi Gowari Stampede at Zero Mile, Nagpur
|Date||23 November 1994|
The 1994 Gowari stampede occurred at Nagpur, India on 23 November 1994 in which 114 people from the Gowari community were killed and 500 more injured. Nagpur Police were trying to disperse almost 50000 Gowari protesters using baton charge but it created panic and triggered stampede amongst protesters. Gowaris are an ethnic tribe of central India and are predominantly present in Nagpur. The main language of the tribe is Marathi. Majority of casualties were women and children who were crushed to death under the crowd’s feet scrambling to escape police line. Some were victims of barbed wire piercing as they were climbing over high fences to escape. Maharashtra state government appointed one man Justice S S Dani commission, to investigate the event, but it held nobody responsible and referred to the tragedy as “unfortunate” one. Commission justified the police action of baton-charge to control such a huge crowd. The commission also cleared state chief minister Sharad Pawar and rest of government for any responsibility towards this incident. Maharashtra’s Tribal Development Minister Madhukar Pichad later resigned accepting moral responsibility for the tragedy.
Every year, the winter session of Maharashtra state assembly, Vidhan Sabha is held at Vidhan Bhavan, Nagpur. For quite some time, Gowari community had been demanding Scheduled tribe status to avail the benefits of reservations in government jobs and education. On 23 November 1994 Gowari protesters, led by Gowari Sanghatana, were trying to reach Vidhan Bhavan and present their demand to state government. Nagpur police had earlier banned all protest march during the winter session of assembly. Nagpur Police stopped the march 50,000 protesters at Nagpur’s Vasantrao Naik College of Arts and Social Sciences (Morris college). However, no government official turned up to talk with protesters and resentment grew. Disturbance started amongst the crowd as they tried to break the police barricades. Police gave out repeated warnings to maintain law and order but the situation was getting out of control. Chief Minister Sharad Pawar had already flown back to Mumbai after concluding the day’s session. At 5:30 pm, a car having red light at the top arrived and protester at front rushed towards it. They assumed some minister had arrived to take up their petition. However, police feared troubled and started wielding batons to push back the protesters. This caused initial retreat but the word of police attack spread causing a panic situation and protesters started running away . Women along with children which were part of protest march got caught in midst of this chaos. They were trampled and left breathless under feet of running protesters. In all 114 people lost their lives in the tragedy. Autopsy conducted on the victims concluded traumatic asphyxia caused the deaths. They were the result of chest compression and obstruction of respiratory system.
Soon after the tragedy, the Maharashtra government appointed a one man commission - Justice S S Dani - to investigate the causes of the tragedy. Meanwhile, opposition parties Bhartiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena coalition took immediate political mileage from this tragedy and it became one of the factors for Indian National Congress losing the state elections of 1995. After many extensions Dani Commission finally tabled its report in March 1998 and found nobody responsible. It noted that Pawar was not aware of the protest going outside of Vidhan Bhawan and what were their demands. Pawar, who was now leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, had initially stated that he feared state government was trying to fix him by altering the commission’s report. The commission upheld the police action of baton charge on the surging crowd in order to maintain law and order situation while the assembly session was going on. It also noted that almost all deaths were caused due to breathless people getting caused under feet of running people and not due to injuries caused by baton charge by police. However, commission suggested that water sprayers and rubber bullets be first used and baton charge should be last resort only after giving two warnings. Commission based its report from statements given by local press and photographers along with independent witnesses on the site. The BJP-SS led government quickly rejected the report.
"Any one of them going and talking to the protesters could have averted the tragedy".
After coming to power Bhartiya Janata Party – Shiv Sena led government had announced Special Backward Caste (SBC) category for 47 such communities with 2 percent reservations in education and government jobs. However, Supreme Court of India ruling that reservation quota cannot exceed 50 percent has created legal problems for SBC quota to materialize. Political efforts to assimilate 2 percent SBC under already existing schedule tribe or other backward caste (OBC) quota have found tough opposition from their respective legislators lobby. After the losing Maharashtra state assembly elections, 2004 BJP also seems to have lost the interest in Gowari incident. The Gowari issue surfaces periodically during assembly sessions.
Monument has been in central Nagpur to commemorate those who died in this tragedy. Also the flyover in Sitabuldi has been name Aadivasi Gowari Shahid flyover.
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