Horrifying images have emerged of hundreds of saffron cloth-shrouded bodies of COVID-19 victims floating along India’s Ganges River after the start of the seasonal monsoon flooding dislodged the corpses along the 1,550-mile-long waterway.
The victims’ families gave up the bodies of their loved ones to the river or buried them in shallow graves on its banks — unable to afford the cost of funeral pyres at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April and May, according to Agence France-Presse.
Officials in Allahabad, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities, told AFP that almost 150 bodies that floated up in the past three weeks have been cremated, as funeral pyres await new bodies along riverside embankments.
Up to 600 bodies were buried along the holy river during the virus surge, according to officials, but locals believe that is a fraction of the real number and fear that many more could be dislodged by rapid waters in the next few weeks.
Sonu Chandel, a boater who works for a crematorium, was shaken by the sight of families burying their loved ones a couple of months ago.
“It was really sad to see poor people burying their loved ones in an undignified manner, but the rising water level has made it worse,” Chandel told AFP. “There is always the fear of (a body) hitting the oar or (my boat) running over a dead body as the water level goes up.”
People fear that if the bodies are not removed, one of the world’s most polluted waterways will become even more toxic.
“This … could cause dangerous diseases,” Dipin Kumar, who lives near the Ganges in Allahabad, told the news agency. “The government must think this over and only they can make a plan.”
Even before the deadly outbreak, millions of Hindus cremated their dead along the banks of the Ganges before scattering the ashes in the river.
Some who could not afford wood or other materials for funeral rites would submerge the bodies, while others conducted water burials as part of their religious traditions.
The number of bodies in and around the river rose sharply during India’s latest, record-breaking viral surge.
Locals said funerals — which can cost more than 7,000 rupees, about $100 — compounded the hardships of those already struggling to make ends meet.
Police and state disaster crews now patrol the river looking for bodies.
Authorities have stationed two boats along the banks to retrieve the bodies, but have had little success in the past few days.
“The flow is very fast and it is a challenge to fish out bodies now,” a police officer told AFP.
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