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Life has not been kind to 17-year-old John (name changed), but he never thought he would one day be forced to carry decomposed bodies lying on railway tracks to post-mortem chambers.
Not only does the teen carry the bodies, he also cuts them, exposes the organs for examination by doctors and finally takes the bodies for cremation or burial.
What’s more, John, who hails from Goa and made his way to Odisha three years ago, is not the only one doing this.
According to him, he is among the many destitute children living near the railway station in Cuttack whose hands have been forced to handle the bodies and dispose them.
John exposed this unofficial system of handling and disposing bodies when he appeared before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Cuttack, 26km off capital Bhubaneswar, on August 22.
John alleged he was forced to do the job by Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel and even doctors at the SCB Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack.
The teen, who is now in the care of a district administration managed shelter home, said he had disposed of more than 100 bodies. John said refusing to do the job was not an option because GRP personnel would beat them up. The children got Rs 300-500 per disposal, he added.
The railways have provision for their own staff to dispose of bodies found on tracks and they are paid Rs 3,000 for each disposal.
John’s revelations have made the CWC initiate a probe.
“We have asked the railways superintendent of police as well as the superintendent of the SCB Medical College and Hospital to initiate inquiries into the matter and submit the report to us within a fortnight,” CWC chairman Bikash Mohapatra told HT on Monday. “We have also formed a separate committee to probe the matter independently.”
A GRP official said they had already initiated an inquiry into the matter. He did not want to be named.
P Rath, superintendent of the SCB Medical College and Hospital, expressed shock over the nature of John’s revelations. “The hospital has its own attendants to carry bodies to the post-mortem room. But the allegations are serious, we will inquire.”
The CWC’s recommendations to the government for action will be made after going through the reports. In the meantime, the CWC has written to Odisha director general of police Sanjiv Marik to probe the cycle of engaging children in post-mortem work and disposal of bodies.
As per the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the CWC has the same power as a metropolitan magistrate or a judicial magistrate of the first class.
The CWC has been overseeing a special drive initiated by the Cuttack district administration since July 26 to rescue destitute children from the railway station areas and rehabilitate them.
At least 24 children have been rescued so far and 14 of them have been sent to drug de-addiction centres.