Waiting to perform the last rites of their 24-year-old son Harjeet Singh, who died in a fire at Doha in Qatar on September 5 while awaiting deportation, his family received a brutal shock when a few minutes before the funeral they discovered that the body brought from the Arab kingdom was of someone else.
Even as the family blamed the Indian embassy in Doha, the labour officer of the embassy told HT that the body had been sent only after verification by Harinder Kumar, a cousin of the deceased, who has also been living in Doha for the past two years and came to India with the body. Harinder, the son of Harjeet’s maternal aunt, however, claimed that he had not been allowed to click photographs and not even given “proper” time to identify the body. He said he was only asked to sign some documents.
As per a letter received by the Punjab government, Harjeet, who belonged to Mohalla Sagran of Adampur town, died on September 5 in a fire at a Health Quarantine Centre located within the premises of the Deportation Centre at Doha. Harjeet was due to be deported on the directions of a local court as he did not have proper visa documents. Others who died in the accident included two persons from Nepal and one each from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
As the relatives gathered at the cremation ground in the afternoon and opened the coffin brought from the Amritsar airport on Wednesday morning, they noticed that it was not Harjeet. The family later met the Jalandhar deputy commissioner KK Yadav and local Akali MLA and chief parliamentary secretary Pawan Kumar Tinu to raise the issue.
An uncle of the deceased, Capt Mohinder Singh (retired), said the family verified from some scars that Harjeet carried that the body was not his, but “of some Muslim person”.
The body has now been kept at the Jalandhar civil hospital mortuary. “After we approached the Indian embassy in Doha, they told us that the bodies of other four persons killed in the fire are still in the custody of the Qatar government, and they will once again verify if Harjeet’s body was there. They requested us to hand over the body we received to the local administration,” said Jagpal.
The tragedy also highlights the sorry trend wherein travel agents dupe people, leading to suffering in foreign countries.
About the case of deportation, Harjeet’s father, farm labourer Jagpal Singh said the travel agent had said Harjeet would be employed as a driver in Doha; but once he reached there he was asked to rear animals at a farm of “some rich man”. “When my son objected, the owner, who had employed Harjeet, got a false police case registered against him following which Harjeet was in jail since July. We received his last call on September 2, when he informed us that he would soon be released and sent back to India,” Jagpal said.