Unnao: Rakesh Kumar, a resident of Bighapur tehsil in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, has been to the Buxar Ghat by the Ganga at least six times in the last one month, to attend funerals. Previously, he had seen people burying their dead in the sandy banks of the river — but that hadn’t prepared him for scenes at the ghat Thursday when he went to attend his aunt’s last rites. The number of bodies buried in the sands had gone up to more than a hundred.
“It looks terrible,” an official was forced to admit after a visit to the area.
There is considerable panic among the local villagers too, with recent rain and storm exposing some of the bodies and even skeletons.
Officials, however, cannot confirm the identity of the dead, or whether they were Covid victims while villagers claim they were “outsiders”.
The local administration said the number of bodies has increased as the place is close to the Ganga river and people from two bordering districts — Fatehpur and Rae Bareli — prefer to perform the last rites of their near and dear ones at the ghat.
A similar situation prevailed at the nearby Rautapur Ganga Ghat in Shuklaganj’s Hajipur area too, where around 50 bodies were found buried in the sand.
The local police are in the process of carrying out an inquiry, while searches are on to see if more bodies were buried in nearby areas.
District Magistrate Ravinder Kumar said, “Our team has (also) found buried bodies in an area far from the river. A search is being conducted for more bodies in other areas. I have asked a team to carry out an inquiry. Action will be taken according to it.”
Villagers living near the Buxar Ghat said many people chose to bury their dead family members or relatives because they couldn’t afford the wood for funeral pyres.
“A couple of weeks ago, there was a long queue here and it was very difficult to find a place for cremation. I saw some people bury a body in sand. They told me they were doing this due to shortage of money and wood,” said Rakesh.
Sonu Verma, a flower seller near the Buxar Ghat, said he too saw people bring bodies and bury them in sand. According to him, it costs Rs 8,000-9,000 to do a proper funeral with all rituals. “Even Pandits doing the antim sanskar (last rites) were charging high,” Sonu said.
Officials are clueless
Bighapur Sub-Divisional Magistrate Daya Shankar Pathak told ThePrint: “A team of officials from Fatehpur and Unnao districts visited the spot but they couldn’t come to a conclusion as to where these bodies came from and why they were buried.”
He said there has been no shortage of wood for cremation.
Another official said the number of cremations in the area was high a few days ago, but no one complained to the administration of wood shortage.
“This is true that cremation numbers were high a few days ago, but those who buried their dead had not contacted the administration for any help. If there was a shortage of wood, we could have managed it,” he said.
The official also pointed out that the bodies were exposed as the sand was blown away by the storm.
“Due to rain and storm, the sand blew away — so it looks terrible there. We are not sure whether these bodies are of Covid-19 patients or not.”
According to UP government data, Unnao had 1,980 active cases of Covid-19 as of 12 May, with 84 new cases and no deaths in the last 24 hours. On 11 May, there were 92 new cases and three deaths.
‘Outsiders did it’
There are around half a dozen villages near Buxur Ghat. But most of the villagers ThePrint spoke to claimed those who buried the dead in sand were “outsiders”.
Bauaa Pandey, a resident of Kalyanpur village, said: “Three persons have died in our village in the last 15 days but all were cremated. I attended all three funerals. We have no wood shortage in the village. But I heard about a shortage of it at the ghat, so we carried wood from the village. I heard outsiders buried their dead in the sand.”
Ankit kumar of Seetal Kheda village also claimed that local residents do “proper cremation”, and also demands a “proper investigation”.
“Hindus do all this with riti-riwaz (rules and rituals),” he asserted.
Not only Buxar Ghat, bodies have been also found buried on the banks of Ganga at the Rautapur Ghat in Shuklaganj’s Hajipur.
Anil Kumar Saxena, a factory worker and resident of Kanpur who was at the ghat for his father-in-law’s cremation, said: “If relatives did not help, financially, it would have been difficult for us to do a proper funeral. People have started burying the dead at the river bank as there is a shortage of wood for the pyre, besides financial constraints.”
As many as 15 bodies were brought to the ghat last Tuesday, and approximately 10 of them were buried in the sand, said a local priest, who did not wish to be named.
Before the pandemic, the ghat used to see only two to three cremations a day on an average, he said.