Delhi riots: Bodies in morgues draw families desperate for closure

The Delhi high court (HC) on Friday directed the hospital authorities and the police to preserve each unidentified body at least till March 11, the next date of hearing.
Of the five unidentified bodies, the two in the mortuary at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital were fished out in a decomposed condition from the drains in the north-east Delhi district, and one in a mortuary of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital was charred beyond recognition. (HT photo)
Of the five unidentified bodies, the two in the mortuary at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital were fished out in a decomposed condition from the drains in the north-east Delhi district, and one in a mortuary of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital was charred beyond recognition. (HT photo)
Updated on Mar 09, 2020 07:27 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAshish Mishra & Abhishek Dey

Of the 53 people who were killed in the communal riots in north-east Delhi, the five unidentified bodies in two mortuaries are drawing desperate people from the affected areas whose family members have been missing since the communal violence was at its peak.

The Delhi high court (HC) on Friday directed the hospital authorities and the police to preserve each unidentified body at least till March 11, the next date of hearing.

“It is a relief that we have got some time. We need a confirmation whether my younger brother is dead or alive. It is about getting closure,” said Matloob Alam, a resident of Hussain Vihar locality in north-east Delhi. His brother, 22-year-old Shahbaaz, was a welder by profession and went missing on February 25 from Karawal Nagar while returning home from a hospital where he had gone for a health check-up.

Of the five unidentified bodies, the two in the mortuary at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital were fished out in a decomposed condition from the drains in the north-east Delhi district, and one in a mortuary of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital was charred beyond recognition.

The HC also issued directions on video-recording all autopsies, and preserving DNA samples of all bodies currently in the mortuaries.

“I last spoke to Shahbaaz around 2:30 pm that day – that was our last conversation. On the phone, he spoke about armed mobs assaulting people on the roads after identifying them by their faiths,” Alam said.

The violence in north-east Delhi started on February 23 on a two-kilometre stretch connecting Jafrabad and Maujpur, with a conflict between two groups -- one made up mostly of Muslims protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and the other made up mostly of Hindus supporting the new legislation. The violence later spread across localities in the district.

Between February 23 and March 2, nine police stations in north-east Delhi -- Khajuri Khas, Karawal Nagar, Nand Nagri, Jafrabad, Seelampur, Gokalpuri, Jyoti Nagar, Dayalpur and Bhajanpura – recorded 38 complaints about missing persons, of which five persons later returned home and three were identified as dead. This effectively leaves 30 people from the region still “untraced”, according to data uploaded in the Zonal Integrated Police Network (Zipnet).

To be sure, it cannot be ascertained how many of these missing persons have a direct link with the communal violence in the region from February 23 to 25.

“My brother is missing since February 24. He was last spotted in Karawal Nagar where he had gone to install generator it a private function. His car was later found burnt in the area. What do I find him now? It looks like he is dead. But, again, the bodies are beyond recognition. The additional time with the court order and DNA test is likely to help,” said Shahrukh Ali, who is looking out for his brother Mohsin.

Of the 38 cases of missing persons recorded by the police during that period, 26 were men and 12 women; 23 were Hindus and 15 Muslims. Police records showed that a large chunk of the missing persons (22) belong to the age group between 18 and 30 years, and seven were minors.

According to guidelines laid down by police rules in several states and standing orders followed by Delhi Police, an unidentified body can be sent for post-mortem examination, and subsequently cremation or burial, after a minimum preservation period of 72 hours, provided the viscera and other evidence – including DNA samples, clothes, accessories and other belongings – are preserved, and the police have made all necessary effort to ascertain the identity of the deceased and contact his or her blood relatives, said a senior police official.

There, however, is no maximum limit on the time for preservation, and that can be extended if the police and hospital authorities get additional time sanctioned by the subdivisional magistrate.

For the rituals of disposing of the bodies, the police look out for signs of the deceased person’s religion. In the absence of any visible sign, cremation is chosen as the last alternative.

Joint commissioner of Delhi Police’s Eastern Range Alok Kumar, who is in charge of north-east district, declined to comment on the issue of missing persons. Delhi Police spokesperson MS Randhawa and deputy commissioner of police (north-east) Ved Prakash Surya did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comments.

Meanwhile, a collective of non-governmental organisations, lawyers and individuals volunteering in relief work has pegged the total number of missing persons cases at 172, saying many of the families did not approach the police.

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