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article imageThe Ganges is giving up the dead as water levels drop

By Karen Graham     Jan 15, 2015 in World
Authorities in India are reporting that over 80 bodies, mostly skeletons and half-burned corpses, were found floating in the Ganges River on Tuesday after the water level dropped. Most were believed to be very old.
Saumya Agarwal is the chief of the riverside district of Unnao, where most of the bodies were found. "These bodies and decomposed skeletons from dismantled graves surfaced when the water level dropped as low as to the riverbed," she said. All remains have now been buried in the riverbed at the same site."
The Ganges is India's most holy and the world's fifth most polluted river. It originates in the glacial meltwaters of the western Himalayas, flowing south and then east where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. Efforts to counter the river's pollution date back to 1989, but all efforts have failed due to corruption and a lack of expertise and environmental planning, as well as a lack of support from religious authorities.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to clean up the Ganges, called Ganga in Hindu, with an executive action plan that includes a special ministry and fund. An initiative called the "National Mission for Clean Ganga" has been launched that involves various stakeholders, religious leaders and environmentalists, according to CNN.
Green campaigners want an end to water burials
About 100 bodies were found on Wednesday in a tributary of the Ganges in northern India, prompting officials to investigate. Many of the dead were children. Officials say they do not suspect a crime, but believe the dead were given water burials.
It is a custom in India to not cremate unwed girls, and many people cannot afford a cremation. Senior district official Saryu Prasad said DNA testing of the bodies was under way, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. A full Hindu funeral can cost up to 7,000 Rupees (around $110), and even a simple cremation can cost as much as $40. Often, the poor cannot afford the price.
Thousands of bodies are cremated on the banks of the Ganges every year, and often, the bodies are released into the river in the hopes that their souls will have a direct route to heaven. Additionally, unwanted and illegitimate babies and animal carcasses are also dumped in the river, again, for religious purposes.
To this end, volunteers from the Ganga Bachao Andolan (Save Ganges Movement) started a sit-in on Wednesday to protest the dumping of the dead into the river. But it will take more than a sit-in among concerned environmentalists to change things.
The Ganges River is suffering from a decay that is not just about dead bodies. More than one billion liters of raw sewage is being dumped into the Ganges on a daily basis, and experts are predicting a 100 percent increase over the next 20 years. The coliform bacterial count is 2,800 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization, and yet people are bathing in this river, as well as being dependent on its water for sustenance.
More about Ganges River, skeletons and corpses, water levels, Holy river, world's most polluted
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