14 January 2015
Last updated at 13:02
The Ganges is India’s most polluted river
More than 100 bodies have been found in the river Ganges in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, prompting the authorities to order a probe.
Reports said the bodies were of people who were dumped in the river or buried on the banks after their families could not afford a proper cremation.
Many Indians regard the Ganges as holy and use its bank for cremations.
The 2,500km (1,500-mile) river has been badly polluted by industrial waste, farm pesticides and sewage.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to clean up the river after his election victory last year.
Bodies were first found floating near the banks of the river on Tuesday in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.
Villagers noticed the bodies when many had become stuck on the river bank with dogs and vultures circling the area.
More were found on Wednesday, and authorities said so far 104 bodies had been retrieved.
“It seems that as the water level has receded in the river, these bodies have surfaced,” news agency AFP quoted district magistrate Saumya Agarwal as saying.
“We are trying to figure out the reason. We have sent a team of doctors on the spot to collect the samples from bodies to investigate the case.”
What makes the Ganges special?
- It is the most sacred river for Hindus who worship it as “Mother Ganges”.
- The river originates from an ice cave under the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas.
- It is a lifeline to hundreds of millions of people who live along its banks, providing them with water and drainage facilities.
- Many holy towns are situated on its banks, including Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad and Varanasi.
- In Allahabad, the Ganges joins the Yamuna and the mythical, invisible Saraswati river to form the Sangam, where tens of millions gather every few years for the Kumbh Mela festival. Hindus believe a dip in the river will wash away their sins.
- Many Hindus go to Varanasi to die because they believe that if they are cremated there, they will leave the cycle of birth and death and attain nirvana.
- The devout travel from all over India to take a dip in the Ganges; most take away the sacred river water in plastic bottles and cans to use in religious ceremonies – in recent years there have been concerns about pollution, but for the faithful the Ganges is sacred and even polluted water is accepted as blessings of the river goddess.
The BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi says bodies can regularly be seen floating in the Ganges, but this is a rare instance when so many bodies have turned up in one place.
Many Hindus do not cremate unwed girls and young boys, and many poor people cannot afford cremation so they wrap the body in white muslin and float it in the river, our correspondent adds.
Activists say the discovery of so many rotting bodies in one place can be a serious health hazard.
A multi-billion dollar initiative to clean up the polluted river over the years has largely failed, environmentalists say.
They say the river supports more than 400 million people, and if the unabated pollution is not controlled, it will be the end of communities living along the banks.