India’s most sacred Ganges is swollen with Covid victims

The Ganges, India’s most sacred river, has recently been swollen with corpses.

Hundreds of corpses were found floating in the river or buried on the banks of the river. People living near washed-out areas in northern Uttar Pradesh are afraid they are victims of Covid-19.

India has been overwhelmed by the devastating second wave of pandemics in recent weeks. It recorded more than 25 million cases and 275,000 deaths, but experts say the actual death toll is several times higher.

The riverbank’s body tells the story of an unrecognized dead, not seen in official data, coupled with a shortage of crematoriums and crematoriums that burn 24 hours a day.

The BBC talks to local reporters, officials and witnesses in some of Uttar Pradesh’s worst-affected districts, with traditional beliefs, poverty, and pandemics behind the floating story. I found that I was killing people at the speed of lightning.

Riverbed dotted with tombs

The horror of Uttar Pradesh was first revealed on May 10 when 71 bodies were launched on the banks of the village of Chausa in Bihar near the border.

Map showing the locations of Chausa and Guhmar in North India.

Map showing the locations of Chausa and Guhmar in North India.

Neeraj Kumar Singh, the chief of police in Buxar, where Chausa is located, told the BBC that most of the decomposed bodies had been autopsied, DNA samples were taken and the bodies were buried in a hole near the riverbank.

Authorities said some of the bodies could have flowed into the Ganges after regular cremation at the bank, but suspected that the bodies were dumped into the river. It was. Police set up nets across the water to catch any more.

A day later, six miles (10 km) from Chausa, dozens of rotting bodies are scattered on the banks of the village of Gamal in the Gajipur district of Uttar Pradesh, where wild dogs and crows feast. I was eating.

Hundreds of shallow tombs have recently been discovered in Unnao

Hundreds of corpses were found floating in the river or buried on the banks of the river.

Locals said the bodies had been washed away on the embankment for several days, but authorities ignored their complaints about the stench until news of the bodies found downstream in Bihar was talked about.

Dozens of bloated and decomposed bodies floating on the river also welcomed villagers in the adjacent Barrier district when they went out for a morning swim in India’s most sacred river. The Hindustan newspaper reported that police had recovered 62 bodies.

In Kannauj, Kanpur, Unnao and Playagraj, the riverbed is dotted with shallow tombs. A video sent to the BBC from the Mendigart Embankment in Kannauji shows a human-sized mound score. Many look bumpy on the riverbed, but each hides its body. At least 50 were found in the nearby Mahadebigato.

“Large” disagreement in death toll

Traditionally, Hindus cremate their dead. However, many communities follow what is known as “Jal Pravah”. It is a habit of floating the bodies of children, unmarried girls, or those who have died of infections or bites of snakes in the river.

Many poor people can’t afford to cremate, so they wrap their bodies in white muslin and push it into the water. Sometimes the body is tied to stones to ensure that they remain submerged, but many float without weights. Usually, the corpses floating on the Ganges are not uncommon.

In this aerial photograph taken on May 5, 2021, the crematorium for the victims of the Covid-19 coronavirus can be seen at the crematorium along the banks of the Ganges in Garmukteswar.

Funeral cremation can be seen along the banks of the Ganges in Garmukteswar, Uttar Pradesh

What is unusual is that so many people appear in so many places along the riverbank in such a short amount of time. A Kanpur journalist told the BBC that the corpse was evidence that “there was a big discrepancy between the official Covid-19 deaths and the actual ground numbers.”

He said 196 people were officially killed by the virus in Kanpur between April 16 and May 5, but data from seven crematoriums showed nearly 8,000 cremations.

“All electric crematoriums were in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in April. That wasn’t enough, so the government allowed the outdoor site to be used for wooden crematoriums.” He said.

“But they only accepted bodies from hospitals with Covid-19 certificates, and many died at home without being tested. Their families left the bodies in the suburbs of the city or in Unnao. When I couldn’t find a tree or a burial ground, I just buried it in the riverbed. “

Playagraj journalists said they believed that many of the bodies were either Covid patients who died untested at home or poor people who could not afford to be cremated.

“That’s a pain,” he said. “These people were all sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, mothers of someone. They deserved respect for death, but they weren’t even part of the statistics. They are unknown. He died in and was buried unknown. “

Burial from 7 am to 11 pm

The discovery of tombs and rotting bodies, and the fear that they could be infected with the coronavirus, sent a shock wave to the village along the banks of the river.

The Ganges originates in the Himalayas and is one of the largest rivers in the world. Hindus consider it sacred and believe that bathing in the Ganges cleanses their sins and uses the water for religious ceremonies.

In Kannauj, a 63-year-old villager, Jagmo Huntiwari, told a local channel that he saw “150-200 tombs” on the riverbed. “The burial lasts from 7 am to 11 pm,” he said. “It is to destroy the soul.”

The discovery of the tomb caused a panic in the area. People are afraid that when it rains and the water level rises, the bodies buried on the surface of the water will begin to float in the river.

Last Wednesday, the state government banned “Jal Pravah” and funded poor families who couldn’t afford to cremate. In many places, police are sticking corpses out of the river and recruiting captains to land them. There, the disassembled bodies are either buried in holes or burned at a funeral crematorium.

Barrier police chief Vipin Tada said he had talked with village council leaders to let them know that the bodies should not be floated in the river and that those who cannot afford to cremate can seek financial assistance. It was.

Gazipur District Justice of the Peace Mangala Prasad Singh told the BBC that the team was patrolling embankments and crematoriums to prevent people from dumping or burying their bodies in water.

However, his team still finds one or two bodies in the river every day.

“We have followed the ritual and performed their final ritual,” he said.

Additional report by Soutik Biswas and Vikas Pandy

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