In a macabre twist to a situation that is already too dire to comprehend, authorities in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have had to call in excavators to dig a mass grave after nearly 100 bloated and decomposing bodies were found floating in the Ganges River.
Around 40 bodies were found in one riverbank area, and groups of 10 or more were found downstream near cremation ghats that had run out of firewood. Some were partially burned, an official told local media.
“We retrieved 71 bodies,” Buxar Superintendent of Police Neeraj Kumar Singh told The Hindu. “Some of them have been disposed of while the process for others are underway. Samples of some bodies too have been preserved for further tests.”
It is not yet known if those found floating in the river were victims of COVID-19—nor is it known exactly who they were. None had identification on them, and given the extreme situation that has taxed all public offices across the country, it does not seem likely anyone will be able to identify them with certainty any time soon. If they were dumped from cremation platforms, authorities suggest families may assume they had been properly cremated.
Videos of the floating bodies have gone viral across the country, with many blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apparent negligence for his handling of the pandemic. Over the weekend, the prestigious medical journal Lancet published a scathing editorial placing the blame squarely on his shoulders, saying the deadly mayhem could have been prevented.
Meanwhile, the Times of India has reported that funeral homes are “profiteering” by selling expensive funerals and cremations to desperate family members who want their loved ones properly laid to rest. With firewood shortages, many families have had to opt for burials, which are now being sold in some states for up to three times the normal price.
India has logged more than 22.6 million coronavirus cases and 246,116 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, most in the last month.