It was a horrendous sight: swollen, decomposed bodies washing up on Monday morning on the ghats of Ganga near Chausa in Bihar's Buxar district. (Chausa is a village on the Bihar and UP border).
Mostly, these were bodies of Covid victims who were either dumped on the banks after their families could not facilitate a proper cremation, or the ones that were conveniently allowed to float in the river -- as part of their last journey -- for want of last rites.
According to the local officials, including a circle officer and block development officer of Chausa, the bodies were three to four days old and might have been dumped into the river.
Confronted with the facts, the District Magistrate of Buxar admitted at a press conference on Monday evening that 30 bodies were found afloat on the banks of two cremation grounds of Charitra Van and Chausa's Mahadeva Ghat.
According to villagers, on Sunday, at Charitravan Ghat, seven bodies were consigned to the flames and 16 were thrown into the Ganga; at Mahadeva ghat,16 bodies were dumped and nine cremated. With the COVID fatalities going up, the price of material required for last rites has also witnessed a spike; the poor villagers don’t have deep enough pockets to even give the relatives a decent send-off.
Nand Kishore Ram, a Dalit leader and a former MLA, told the Free Press Journal: "In our community, people are burying the bodies of Corona victims as they cannot afford the expensive last rites. Also, there is a problem of paucity of space in the two cremation grounds, where normally six to seven bodies are cremated every day; this figure has touched a shocking 100. There is an acute shortage of wooden logs owing to the back-to-back cremations. Those who facilitate the last rites often demand Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 per body.
The scary graphics emanating from the ghats showing the bodies afloat seem to reinforce the belief that the authorities have been unable to fathom the scale of the tragedy that is unfolding before their eyes, pointed out a veteran journalist.
The local administration has been espousing the theory that the bodies have floated downstream from Uttar Pradesh. "They are bloated and have been in the water for at least five to seven days. We are disposing them of. But before that we need to ascertain where they are from, which town in UP - Bahraich or Varanasi or Allahabad," an official told a TV channel. "The bodies are not from here as we don't have a tradition of disposing of bodies in this manner," the official explained.
Another theory is that some of the bodies are dumped by the hearse drivers.