15 eunuchs killed in fire

iol pic wld India Eunuchs Killed~3 AP A eunuch cries as others console her at the site of fire which tore through a makeshift tent during a gathering of some thousands of eunuchs in New Delhi, India.

New Delhi - A fire tore through a makeshift tent at a gathering of thousands of eunuchs in the Indian capital, killing 15 people and injuring at least 36 others, police said.

Emergency workers said Sunday's blaze was most likely caused by an electrical short and quickly spread through the tent, which was about 30 meters long.

The tragedy struck at a prayer ceremony and feast celebrated by the marginalized community.

About 5 000 eunuchs had gathered for the event that's held once every five years, said Shapo, an organiser of the event at a fairground in the Nandnagary neighbourhood of east Delhi. Shapo, like many eunuchs, uses only one name.

Sunday was the first day of the 20-day event, said Ratna, an attendee.

The term eunuchs is used in India to describe transvestites, transsexuals and others who identify themselves as neither male nor female but as a member of a third gender. They traditionally survive by begging, dancing at weddings or blessing newborn babies and are frequently subjected to discrimination.

India's eunuch population is estimated to be about 700 000.

One witness at the scene, Angelie, said there was a loud short, then flames suddenly erupted and a gas cylinder exploded. Crowds of people ran to the exit from the fairground, Angelie said.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that local residents raced to the area to pull the injured from the blaze before police and fire fighters arrived.

News reports said that the government had ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident. - Sapa-AP


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