A year after her death in a concert stampede, Bharti Shahani’s family commemorates her life

Ritu Jha-

It was exactly a year ago, on November 5, that the Shahani family received the horrifying news that their eldest daughter Bharti Shahani was one of the scores hospitalized after a fatal crowd crush at the Travis Scott Astroworld concert in Houston, Texas. Over the next few days, the stampede had caused the death of 10 people – including Bharti – and injured hundreds more.

A year later, her father Bhagu Shahani has still not come to terms with the tragedy. “Our life has completely changed,” he told indica on his daughter’s first death anniversary. “We were trying to live for our two daughters.”

Following Bharti’s passing on November 10 last year – just a few days after Bhagu’s birthday – the family is trying to heal itself by offering prayer services at home and at pilgrimage places in India such as Vrindavan and Haridwar.

Even in her death, Bharti had given life to three others who received her organs. Two of three are doing well, Bhagu said, while one person who received her kidney did not make it. “The 17-year-old who got Bharti’s heart is out of the hospital,” said Bhagu said. “She donated her heart, lungs, liver, kidney, skin tissue… everything except her eyes.”

He did not find the courage to meet the 17-year-old girl who now carries Bharti’s heart. “We were not emotionally ready to meet them, but now Bharti’s mother says she wants to meet,” Bhagu told indica. “If you hear the girl’s heartbeat all the memories, the emotions will come rushing back.”

The Shahani family told the girl’s family that she will be just like their daughter, and that they can be called upon at any time she needs them. “Once a three-year-old visited our shop and she looked just like Bharti when she was that age, and I could not control my emotions. I offered her chocolates and tennis shoes on her birthday,” he said.

He said Bharti has inspired many of their relatives and friends to sign up for organ donation. “My nephew and nieces have signed it too.”

Many of his friends who have signed up have acknowledged that it was Bharti’s act that inspired them.

His younger daughter Namrata (the youngest, Ria, wasn’t) and a cousin were with Bharti when the incident took place. It was when people began climbing fences and throwing beer bottles that the trio decided to move out. It was at this point that Bharti was pushed by the crowd leading to her falling on the ground and people stepping over her. She had heart congestion [compression asphyxia] and was without CPR for over 25 minutes.

Bharti, a Texas A&M senior, was in a coma for nearly week before she succumbed to her injuries on November 11.

That Shahanis, along with the families of other victims, have an ongoing lawsuit against 18 defendants, including Astroworld (an annual music festival organised by rapper Travis Scott), Travis Scott, Apple Music and Live Nation.

As of December 3, 2021, more than 275 civil wrongful death, personal injury, and premises liability lawsuits had been filed from more than a dozen law firms, including Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and attorney Tony Buzbee, representing more than 1,250 people seeking billions in total damages.

Buzbee told Rolling Stone magazine that the neither the authorities nor organizers were incentivized to stop the show because of the money at stake, stating that if the performance itself had been interfered with, their reactions would have been vastly different.

On December 6, attorney Brent Coon and crowd surge expert Dr. G. Keith Still announced a lawsuit on behalf of another 1,547 concertgoers seeking a further $10 billion in damages, pushing for legislative steps to mandate both certification of events from crowd control specialists and training programs for workers, and stricter criminal liability for errors in live entertainment going forward.

“The incident happened at 9:30-10 pm, so there was time to postpone it. But the organizers refused it since they have taken the money and cannot refund it. But God has its say and now he has to refund it anyway,” Shahani said. “Whatever damage was done, is done. It could have been avoided. If my daughter had received CPR, she could have survived.”

Meanwhile, it is their faith that is keeping them strong. On November 4, 2022, a day after Bhagu’s 60th birthday, the family said they “did aarti at the local Sri Govindji Gaudiya Math temple and today Lord Krishna and other deities’ clothes and decorations were sponsored by us.”

“Since blue was Bharti’s favorite color, all the gods are wearing blue. All the dresses of all the deities were shipped from India and we offered flowers she used to love.”

He added, “Whatever we do is for Bharti to get peace.”

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