Indian village under curfew after funeral of 'divine' horse

Large gathering to pay respects to horse sparks fears of a coronavirus outbreak in rural Karnataka

Indian authorities introduced a curfew and rushed to test residents of a rural village after hundreds gathered for the funeral of a horse said to have divine powers, sparking fears of a coronavirus outbreak.

More than 400 mostly mask-less men, women and children gathered in the village of Maradimath in the southern state of Karnataka on Sunday, to pay their respects to the horse, which they believed had been protecting them from the pandemic.

Karnataka is among the states that have been hit hardest by Covid-19. It is under a weeks-long lockdown to curb high infection rates, with more than 1.5 million Covid-19 cases reported in the state since a severe second wave of the virus hit the country in late March.

But the residents of Maradimath defied the lockdown and marched for hours across the village, beating drums and chanting as they carried the dead horse on a cart.

The horse’s body was covered in flowers and colourful pigments were splashed across its body as women wailed and men queued up to pay tribute before it was laid to rest at a temple.

As news of the gathering spread, health authorities sealed the village and embarked on a testing drive using rapid antigen tests, fearing a rise in Covid-19 infections.

“We are conducting tests on the villagers every day. It is a matter of our concern,” said MG Hiremath, the district’s top civil officer.

“Twenty-five people were tested yesterday but no one has tested positive so far,” he told The National.

“In rural areas people have such beliefs. They worshiped the horse that belonged to a local monastery and believed the horse was protecting them from Covid-19."

Police said they have charged the gathering for violating the lockdown that remains in place in the state but no arrests have been made.

Superstitions and misinformation around coronavirus abound among many Indians, particularly in rural areas, with many setting up temples for the virus or even changing the spelling of coronavirus and Covid-29 in the belief it will help bring the pandemic to an end.

Villagers, mostly illiterate, rely on suggestions from priests and monks, as well as unscientific methods to cure diseases, like hanging shoes at the entrance of the house to scare away the disease or smearing cow dung on their bodies to kill the virus.

The horse was brought to the village on the recommendation of a local monk and left to wander around with the belief that the animal would keep the deadly virus at bay.

However, two weeks after it arrived, the horse died. Believing this was a bad omen, the locals organised a grand farewell.

“It was a sudden gathering. People had learnt about the death of the horse and gathered for its funeral. We have booked a case against unknown organisers and sealed the entire village,” Nagaraj Khilare, inspector at local station, told The National.

Karnataka recorded nearly 26,000 fresh cases and 700 deaths on Sunday as India crossed 300,000 deaths, making it the third-worst affected country after the US and Brazil.

Although some cities have reported falling cases, infection rates remain high in rural areas where healthcare infrastructure remains scarce.

India has reported nearly 27 million cases since the outbreak began last year, almost half of them during the second wave that began in March.

Many have blamed massive political and religious gatherings for the spike that saw millions of people come together from around the country.

Several states have imposed curfews and restrictions on the gatherings and public movement to control the spread of the infection but violations remain widespread.

Published: May 25, 2021 06:00 AM

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