The Uttarakhand disaster has left gruesome scenes of death and devastation in its wake. The state government claims that 557 people have died so far, but the estimated death toll could be as high as 15,000. Now rumours are doing the rounds in the corridors of power that the state chief minister Vijay Bahuguna is seeking a religious leader’s sanction to organise a mass funeral for the deceased.
Six days after the floods, water levels have receded and bodies can be seen drifting downstream on the Ganga. On June 21, 48 bodies were fished out of the river at Haridwar alone. It was reported that several decaying bodies are getting trapped in the Ganga barrage at Muzzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. What’s worse, these bodies are not being retrieved, but are being allowed to drift onwards. Mangled bodies are still decaying in Kedarnath, Gaurikund, Badrinath, Dharsil, Govindghat and the surrounding forests. The state administration says that its priority right now is to rescue those who have survived the devastation.
Permission for mass funeral
According to sources, Bahuguna had asked for permission to hold a mass funeral for bodies that have been recovered. But none of the shankaracharyas or religious leaders have replied yet. “What sort of a respect do we show the dead if we just throw their bodies in a bonfire?” asks Bharat Rawat, a resident of Uttarkashi town. These objections to a mass funeral from people have made Bahuguna desperate to gain sanction from a religious leader. He also discussed the matter with Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, but no way out has been found so far.
Fears of epidemic
Meanwhile, several doctors who were rescued from affected areas in the mountain state say that with decaying bodies strewn about the villages and forests, an epidemic is bound to break out. Scientist Jayprakash Semwal says that the bodies lying in the forests and those flowing down the river may infect the water. Several communities rely on the river for water for basic purposes such as washing utensils, clothes, and as a source of drinking water.