Rajat Sharma

Bodies floating in Ganga : How western media spread half-truths !

akbThe speed at which Covid pandemic had spread, has now decreased almost everywhere in India, but in the ongoing UP assembly election, mention is being made frequently about bodies floating in the river Ganga. On Monday, we got visual, which nails the lie that was being spread about bodies floating in Ganga. Even The New York Times and The Washington Post had published images of the bodies floating in river Ganga last year, but the visuals that we got on Monday clearly establish that a false narrative about burial of bodies near Ganga was created last year.

Opposition leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Om Prakash Rajbhar have been telling election rallies about how bodies of Covid-19 victims were floating in the river Ganga, and thousands of bodies were buried on the banks of Ganga in Prayagraj city.

Disturbing images and videos of bodies buried on Ganga river bank in April-May last year, are now being circulated on social media by opposition and vested interest groups. Opposition leaders are alleging that the state government is hiding real figures about the number of Covid-related deaths.

On February 8, when Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee came to Lucknow to lend support to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, she mentioned how Yogi government failed to tackled the pandemic last year, when it was at its peak. Mamata Banerjee even claimed that bodies that floated in Ganga river even reached her state, West Bengal, where her administration performed their last rites.

Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, while addressing voters of Rae Bareli on Monday through virtual mode, recalled how people in UP faced difficult times during the peak of pandemic, and were unable to get oxygen, medicines and even beds in hospitals, and many people lost their loved ones. She alleged that the Yogi government did not try to alleviate the sufferings of people during pandemic.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has been consistently referring to pictures of Covid-19 bodies buried on the banks of river Ganga in Prayagraj. These are, of course, disturbing pictures of bodies buried in the sands during April-May last year.

The foreign media soon picked up those images to report how India was struggling to bear the full brunt of Covid pandemic. One BBC report was headlined, “India’s holiest river swollen with bodies”, The New York Times reported with headlines like “The Ganges Is Returning The Dead, It Does Not Lie”, The Washington Post headline was “The mystery of hundreds of bodies found in India’s Ganges river”, The Wall Street Journal headlined one report as “India Has Undercounted Covid-19 Deaths By Hundreds Of Thousands, Families And Experts Say”, The New York Post reported “Indian Cops Put Nets over Ganges River To Prevent Dumping Of COVID Victims”.

In most of the reports in international media, it was claimed that floating of bodies in Ganga, and burial of bodies on Ganga river bank were unprecedented events.

India TV reporter Manish Bhattacharya was in Prayagraj in connection with election reporting, I told him to go the Ganga river bank where bodies of dead people were buried 10 months ago, during the peak of pandemic. The visuals that he sent was shocking. There are still several hundred spots where bodies were buried recently.

On a two to three kilometre stretch, he noticed bodies that have been buried recently. Manish spoke to local residents who told him that burying of bodies on Ganga river bank was nothing new, it is part of custom of some local communities in Hinduism. Since the district authorities have prohibited floating of bodies in Ganga due to environmental reasons, people of these communities have been burying their near and dear ones in the sands of river Ganga.

On an average, the local residents told him, daily 10 to 15 bodies are buried in the sands. Manish met one Devi Lal Prasad, who helps relatives in burying their dead. He said, this has been the custom since past several decades. Devi Lal Prasad said, during Covid pandemic, the rush was heavy, and his son also helped him in burying the bodies. On an average 250 to 300 bodies are buried every month on the river bank, he said.

When one of our reporters sought Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s reaction on this, she appeared to be somewhat offended, and replied , “I stand by what I have said”.

UP deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who hails from this area, said, “I live in Prayagraj, I know the local customs. Our government did its best in helping people during the pandemic, but internationally, UP and India got a bad image. It is the handiwork of the opposition who works on a single-point agenda of tarnishing our image. Why don’t they compare us with Kerala, where the Covid death toll is higher compared to UP?”

At the peak of Covid pandemic in May last year, the number of daily fresh Covid cases was more than 40 thousand in UP alone. Naturally, the death toll, like in other states, was on the higher side. During the last 24 hours, there were only 600 fresh cases, and only seven deaths reported, across UP. Yet, the number of bodies being buried on the banks of Ganga in Prayagraj is still the same, as it was in May last year. But, you will not find The New York Times reporting about it, nor the Wall Street Journal sending a cameraperson to Prayagraj. But last year, in May, when the international media flashed images of bodies buried in sands, and published reports about burials of the dead near Ganga, most of the people in India immediately believed these to be true. India’s image was being tarnished, but gullible people in India believed those reports to be true.

It seems the problem is with the mindset. Even today, most of us still believe, any report published in the international media is the gospel truth. In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ show on Monday night, we showed visuals taken yesterday itself. This is the final truth. This is reality, as it exists in Prayagraj. But the international media, without conducting proper investigation or collecting evidence from relatives, purveyed half-truth and half untruths. It was reported that all those who were buried in May last year, were victims of the pandemic. But now, nobody has come to Prayagraj to find out why 250 to 300 bodies are still being buried every month on the river bank, even at a time when the pandemic appears to be on the wane.

Why doesn’t The New York Times and Washington Post send their reporters and camerapersons to the same spot in Prayagraj now? The reason is clear. Over the last several decades, these newspapers have been always trying to project India in a poor light, as a poverty stricken, underdeveloped country, living in the age of snake charmers. This is what sells in the West. The problem is, most of the people in India immediately lap up these reports as gospel truth.

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