Hundreds of shallow graves found along Indian riverbanks
PRAYAGRAJ, India / NBC News — Police are investigating hundreds of bodies that were either buried in shallow sand graves or have washed up on the Ganges River banks, with some speculating on social media that they are remains of COVID-19 victims.
In jeeps and boats, the police used portable loudspeakers with microphones asking people not to dispose of the bodies in rivers. “We are here to help you perform the last rites,” police said.
On Friday, rains exposed the cloth coverings of bodies buried in shallow sand graves on the riverbank in Prayagraj, a city in Uttar Pradesh state.
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.
Sehgal said some villagers did not cremate their dead — due to a Hindu tradition during some periods of religious significance — and disposed of them in rivers or digging graves on riverbanks.
K.P. Singh, a senior police officer, said authorities had earmarked a cremation ground for those who died of Covid-19 on the Prayagraj riverbank and the police were no longer allowing any burials on the riverfront.
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 the bodies in the river because of the exorbitant cost of performing the last rites and shortage of wood. The cremation cost has tripled up to 15,000 rupees ($210).
Health authorities last week retrieved 71 bodies that washed up on the Ganges River bank in neighboring Bihar state.
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