Meghsingh Badouria, 75, was left freezing in his underpants after losing his clothes and his friends following a dip in the holy waters at humanity’s biggest gathering, India’s Kumbh Mela.
He is not alone. In the cacophony and chaos of the vast religious festival, it is easy to get lost among the millions upon millions of Hindu devotees.
“I got separated from my villagers and went to the sangam [the holy confluence of rivers] and gave my bag to a stranger to look after while I went to bathe,” Badouria said. “When I came back, my bag was nowhere to be seen... It was early in the morning and it was cold.”
However, help is at hand: There are 15 lost and found centers across the grounds, a dusty maze of tents the size of Manhattan thronging with people from mid-January until early March.
“We get 70 or 100 people every day,” said Shivani Singh Sengar, 21, a volunteer who spends long days making announcements over the 3,500 loudspeakers in an attempt to reunite friends and family.
As Badouria explained his story — clothed by festival volunteers, but still without his friends — a panicked mother sobbed tears of relief after being reunited at the center with her two daughters, aged five and seven.
“After the bathing ritual, we decided to shop before heading home. As we purchased some clothes, I realized both my children were missing,” mother Ranjana said. “It was a nightmare and I cried a lot.”
As many as 150 million people are expected to visit this Kumbh. On the day of Badouria’s calamity, there were 20 million people attending.
Getting separated at the Kumbh and reuniting miraculously decades later is a common Bollywood story line, but technology and the ubiquity of mobile phones — there are 830 million of them in India — means that people get lost a lot less than they used to.
The 15 lost and found centers are connected via computer and there is a state-of-the-art police command post to oversee operations. Pictures of the missing rotate on television screens.
There is a special Kumbh app helping reunite people, providing they can read, which is far from a given.
Comprehension too can be an issue, with India home to 22 major languages and hundreds of dialects.
“One lady ... it was the first time that she had left her village. She couldn’t explain where she came from. She couldn’t identify any landmark,” Sengar said. “We checked Google. We asked her about the river near her home and temples. Eventually we worked out she was from Bengal.”
Binnu has been at the lost and found center for two weeks.
“I am comfortable here, but a bit worried. Hopefully, someone from my family will turn up soon,” said the 65-year-old, who does not know her address or the telephone number of any family members.
Reuniting people is “the norm,” Kumbh official Maninath Jha said.
Those who cannot find their friends or family are eventually given money and a letter to allow them free train travel to get home.
Many of those who get lost are illiterate older people from rural areas or young children. Counselors — and toys — are on hand to help those who are distressed.
However, there is a darker side. Sometimes older people or unwanted young daughters — India has one of the world’s highest rates of female feticide — are deliberately abandoned.
A two-year-old girl with a medical condition had been abandoned at the festival, Sengar said, adding that such cases were not unusual.
“We kept her here for 20 days and then we sent her to an NGO [a non-governmental organization] where she got operated on and treated,” she added. “Now she is living there. There are many cases like that.”
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
BEIJING REACTS: China announced that Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with Canada, Australia and Britain would be suspended after those nations acted earlier New Zealand yesterday announced that it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The move came after China passed sweeping new security legislation for the territory. New Zealand is the final member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to take such action after the Australia, Britain, Canada and the US previously announced similar measures. New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said that the new legislation goes against commitments China made to the international community. “New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” Peters said. Moreover, Wellington would treat military and technology exports to