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Mujibur – Maligawatte tragedy happened because of poverty

STAMPEDE DEATHS – Police Scene of Crime officers on Juma Masjid in Maligawatte in Colombo after three people died in a stampede where a businessman was distributing cash for Eid/Twitter

ECONOMYNEXT – The deaths of three elderly women caused by a stampede during an aid distribution event on Thursday in Colombo central is a “tragedy that happened due to extreme poverty,” former Member of Parliament Mujibur Rahman said.

He told EconomyNext that the curfews and lockdowns that had halted economic activity had caused many people living in the inner-city to go without work as most of them were daily wage earners.

“These women who rushed to get the cash are people who prepare food for the daily workers, so they were without income for many days,” Rahman who represents people in this area in the legislature said.

He said that no help had come from the government except for the Rs 5,000 per family which had been paid two months after the restrictions were imposed.

“These conditions have left people in these areas in a desperate situation,” he said.

“It has been the temples, mosques and churches which have been helping with dry rations,” he said.

The main engine of economic activity in the inner-city is the Pettah market and employs thousands of daily workers. With the market closed these people had no work and no money.

Rahman said the crowd which had come to collect the aid – which was between two and three thousand rupees per person – had collected on the street for several hours.

“The police did nothing at that time,” he noted although the police curfew in force at the time prohibits gatherings of any sort.

When the gates of the premises were opened everyone rushed in and that’s when there was a crush and a group of people fell police said.

At least six people had been rushed to hospital after being injured in the melee.

A doctor in the National Hospital Dr Chandana Gajanayake told reporters that one of the women he treated had said that she had fallen when there was some pushing and shoving in the crowd.

“She told me perhaps fifty others fell on top of her and many people walked on her,” Gajanayake said.

The owner of the property, a prominent motor spare parts dealer and his family have been giving out these cash gifts every Eid for more than two-decades from this particular house.

It used to be their family home but since of late it is being used as a storage facility as the members of the family have moved to other parts of Colombo.

The businessman and six others were arrested and remanded until June 4 after being produced before a magistrate.

The Police spokesman Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana told reporters they have been charged with a number of offences including culpable homicide not amounting to murder and several charges under the Quarantine Ordinance. (Colombo May 23, 2020)