Authorities in northern India said Wednesday that some 80 bodies that surfaced in the Ganges River this week – many of them children – had been given traditional water burials and were not victims of foul play.
Villagers in Pariyar, 50 miles from the city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state, noticed the floating bodies Tuesday morning after dogs and vultures were seen in the area, prompting local officials to investigate.
"The dead bodies were buried in the water," said Saumya Agarwal, the district magistrate of Unnao, which includes Pariyar. They resurfaced as the water levels receded."
The consigning of bodies to water is banned in India, but the practice still takes place because of beliefs among some Hindus that unwed girls should not be cremated, and that a water burial ensures that she will be reborn into the same family.
Poor families who cannot afford cremations also prefer to deposit the deceased in bodies of water such as the Ganges, India's holiest river but also one of its most polluted.
"Water burials are discouraged because of environmental reasons but it is true that they have not stopped entirely – especially in the case of unwed girls," Agarwal sad.
The bodies were badly decomposed, indicating they had been in the water for a substantial time, officials said. Authorities conducted DNA tests and cremated the bodies in the soil according to the wishes of local residents, Agarwal said.
Amid fears of worsening pollution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government last year announced a $328-million effort to clean up the river.