PRAYAGRAJ, India (AP) – 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 banks of the Ganges, prompting speculation about the social networks according to which they are the remains of COVID- 19 victims.
In jeeps and boats, police used portable speakers with microphones asking people not to dump bodies in rivers. “We are here to help you perform the last rites,” police said.
Rains on Friday exposed the cloth coverings of bodies buried in shallow sand graves on a wide, flat shore in Prayagraj, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. While officials say riverside burials have been taking place for decades, the sheer numbers in the shadow of the pandemic are drawing more attention to the practice.
Navneet Sehgal, a state government spokesperson, 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 that some villagers did not cremate their dead as is customary, due to a Hindu tradition during certain periods of religious importance, and instead threw them into rivers or by digging graves on them. banks.
Ramesh Kumar Singh, a member of Bondhu Mahal Samiti, a philanthropic organization that helps cremate bodies, said the death toll is very high in rural areas and the poor dumped bodies in the river because of the cost. exorbitant execution of the last rites and shortage of wood. The cost of cremation has tripled to 15,000 rupees ($ 210).
On Saturday, an Associated Press photojournalist estimated there were at least 300 shallow riverside graves on a sandbar near Prayagraj. Each grave was covered with an orange, yellow or reddish fabric and appeared to be arranged in the same direction. Several police officers were at the scene, but allowed a family that arrived in a small truck to bury a 75-year-old woman at the scene.
KP Singh, a senior police official, said authorities had reserved a cremation ground on the shore of the Prayagraj for those who died from COVID-19, and that police no longer allowed any burials on the edge of the river. River. Authorities in Sehgal State found “a small number” of bodies on the riverbank, he said, but did not give a figure.
However, on Sunday, a 30-year-old Buddhist came to the same shore in Prayagraj with other members of his family and buried his mother, who he said had died of a heart attack.
“She was not infected with COVID-19,” Vijay Kumar told the AP, adding that her religion allows both cremation and burial, “but I chose burial.”
Last week, health authorities recovered 71 bodies washed up on a bank of the Ganges in neighboring Bihar state.
Authorities performed autopsies, but said they could not confirm the cause of death from the decomposition.
A dozen corpses were also found last week buried in the sand at two riverside locations in the Unnao district, 40 kilometers southwest of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar. Pradesh. District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar said an investigation was underway to identify the cause of death.
India’s two large states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with nearly 358 million inhabitants in total, are among the hardest hit by the virus outbreak sweeping the country with a devastating death toll. Unhappy villagers rushed the sick to nearby towns for treatment, many of them dying on the way, victims of crumbling healthcare in India.
After reaching record levels for weeks, the number of new cases was stabilizing, said Dr VK Paul, a government health expert.
The health ministry reported 311,170 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours on Sunday, up from 326,098 on Saturday.
It also reported 4,077 additional deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 270,284. Both figures are almost certainly a considerable undercount, experts say.
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