MUMBAI, India – A pre-dawn stampede killed 18 people Saturday as tens of thousands of people gathered to mourn the death of a Muslim spiritual leader in India's financial capital, police said.
At least 40 other people were injured in the stampede when mourners thronged the home of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the head of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community, Mumbai Police Commissioner Satya Pal Singh said.
Burhanuddin died Friday at the age of 102.
Thousands of white-clad mourners had thronged the streets of Malabar Hill, an upmarket neighborhood in south Mumbai. Many were wailing and crying as they inched forward through the narrow road.
Singh said the stampede occurred when the gates leading to the spiritual leader's house were closed at about 1 a.m. The crowds surged forward, with many people getting crushed near the gates and with no way to escape.
Singh acknowledged that crowd management around the Syedna's home was poor and said police at the scene were badly outnumbered by the huge number of mourners.
"We didn't think the crowd would be so great," Singh said. "Also, it's an emotional occasion when police cannot take harsh measures to push back the crowd."
The Syedna had succeeded his father in 1965 and led the community for nearly five decades. He was well known as a promoter of education and spiritual values in his community.
Tens of thousands of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims from all over India and several other countries headed to Mumbai for his funeral later Saturday.
Across Mumbai, shops and businesses owned by Bohra Muslims were closed Saturday in homage to their leader.
Deadly stampedes are fairly common during India's often-chaotic religious gatherings and festivals, where large crowds gather in small areas with few safety or crowd control measures.
In October, more than 110 people were killed in a stampede at a Hindu festival in Madhya Pradesh state in central India. More than 220 people were killed in a 2008 stampede at the Chamunda Devi Hindu temple inside Jodhpur's picturesque Mehrangarh Fort.