Mon, 06 Mar 2006 19:11:56 EST
A ring of traders has been stealing human bones from India’s holy rivers and reselling them for medical research, according to police in West Bengal state.
Poor Hindu families in the region who are unable to afford cremation often consign their relatives’ remains to rivers that they consider holy.
Reuters reported Monday that police found dozens of skeletons at a "bone factory" near the Bhagirathi River in West Bengal. The bones had been treated with chemicals to preserve them and were drying in the sun.
Police familiar with the methods of Indian bone-selling rings say the skeletons would have been sold to medical schools in Calcutta that prefer human models to fibre reproductions.
A well-preserved, intact skeleton can bring about $775 Cdn if smuggled out of the country for international sale.
Religious tension is colouring the investigation as well, due to reports that Muslim graves have been robbed of their contents in the same district of India in recent months.
"Hurting religious sentiments by digging [up] graves cannot be tolerated. All previous incidents of grave-digging must be investigated," Muslim community spokesman Hasan Ahmed Imran told Reuters.
Trade in human skeletons was legal in India until the late 1980s, when a government ban forced the industry underground.