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Wednesday October 27, 2021

Hundreds of bodies found buried along Indian riverbanks

May 17, 2021

PRAYAGRAJ, India: Police are reaching out to villagers in northern India to investigate the recovery of bodies buried in shallow sand graves or washed up on the Ganges River banks, prompting speculation on social media that they’re the remains of COVID-19 victims.

In jeeps and boats, police used portable loudspeakers with microphones asking people not to dispose of bodies in rivers. “We are here to help you perform the last rites,” police said.

Images of corpses drifting down the Ganges river, which Hindus consider holy, have shocked a nation reeling under the world's worst surge in infections, international media reported.

"The administration has information that bodies of those who have succumbed to COVID-19 or any other disease are being thrown into rivers instead of being disposed of as per proper rituals," a senior state official, Manoj Kumar Singh, said in a May 14 letter to district heads. “As a result, bodies have been recovered from rivers in many places.”

On Friday, rains exposed the cloth coverings of bodies buried in shallow sand graves on a wide, flat riverbank in Prayagraj, a city in Uttar Pradesh state. While officials say the riverside burials have taken place for decades, the sheer numbers in the shadow of the pandemic are focusing more attention on the practice.

Navneet Sehgal, a state government spokesman, on Sunday denied local media reports that more than 1,000 corpses of COVID-19 victims had been recovered from rivers in the past two weeks. “I bet these bodies have nothing to do with COVID-19,” he said.

He said some villagers did not cremate their dead as is customary, due to a Hindu tradition during some periods of religious significance, and instead disposed of them in rivers or by digging graves on riverbanks.

Ramesh Kumar Singh, a member of Bondhu Mahal Samiti, a philanthropic organization that helps cremate bodies, said the number of deaths is very high in rural areas, and poor people have been disposing of bodies in the river because of the exorbitant cost of performing the last rites and a shortage of wood. The cost of cremation has tripled up to 15,000 rupees ($210).

Health authorities last week retrieved 71 bodies that washed up on a Ganges River bank in neighbouring Bihar state. Authorities performed post mortems but said they could not confirm the cause of death due to decomposition.

A dozen corpses were also found last week buried in sand at two locations on the riverbank in Unnao district, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh state capital. District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar said an investigation is underway to identify the cause of death.

India’s two big states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with nearly 358 million people in total, are among the worst hit in the virus surge sweeping through the country with devastating death tolls. Hapless villagers have been rushing the sick to nearby towns and cities for treatment, many of them dying on the way, victims of India’s crumbling health care.

India on Sunday reported 281,860 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. It also reported 4,092 additional deaths, taking the total fatalities to 274,411.

India has been officially reporting about 4,000 daily deaths from the disease for nearly two weeks, but health experts say the toll is probably much higher because of factors such as poor testing in rural areas.`