Indian hamlet sealed off on COVID worries after hundreds attend funeral of ‘God’s horse’


Bengaluru (Reuters) – Authorities have sealed off a hamlet in southern India after hundreds of people ignored a coronavirus lockdown and crowded the funeral of a horse considered divine in local tradition, a government official said on Tuesday.

The containment measures were introduced after around 400 people in a hamlet near the town of Gokak in Karnataka state gathered at a local Hindu monastery for the horse’s funeral on Sunday, Gokak administration official Prakash Holeppagol said.

Visuals from Reuters partner ANI showed people walking shoulder-to-shoulder to the funeral, many without face masks, in violation of physical distancing norms and a state-wide lockdown. Face masks are still mandatory across much of India, which is battling a massive wave of coronavirus infections.

“The people believed the animal to be God’s horse … it has been at the monastery for some 23 years,” Holeppagol said.

“We rushed to the spot once we learned about the gathering. We took help from police to seal down the place quickly,” Holeppagol said, adding no one would be allowed to enter or leave the hamlet of Maradimath for at least 14 days.

Authorities have conducted rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 on 25 people with flu-like symptoms in the hamlet so far, all of which had negative results, he said. More tests were planned in the hamlet of roughly 2,000 inhabitants, he said.

Police are also investigating the incident after a complaint was made against “devotees and villagers” at Maradimath for allegedly enabling the possible spread of COVID-19, in violation of epidemic and disaster management laws, a first information report (FIR) seen by Reuters showed.

The complaint was made by local government official M.S. Teli, but did not name any villagers in particular, according to the FIR.

Teli could not be reached for comment, while a top district police official did not reply to Reuters’ calls and text messages seeking comment.

Holeppagol said the horse likely died of natural causes.

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