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Who cares for Mumbai's dead?
Vijay Singh in Mumbai |
September 01, 2004 23:04 IST
Mumbai. In this city of more than 10 million people, life comes cheap. And the dead? Well, who's got time for them?
On Monday, rediff.com visited five hospitals run by the state government or the municipal corporation – Cooper, Bhagwati, Rajawadi, JJ and KEM – and counted 196 – yes, 196! – unclaimed corpses. Some had been lying in the dingy mortuaries for more than two months.
These five hospitals are where all unclaimed bodies in Mumbai end up, for only these hospitals have attached coroner's courts. The coroner is a public servant whose function is to make an inquest of any death thought to be from other than natural causes.
But shouldn't the unclaimed bodies be disposed of?
In theory, yes. But in practice there is a problem. Who will bear the cost – the hospital or the police?
Hospital authorities are clear that their role ends once the post-mortem is done and the report is handed over to the police station concerned. Once the police exhaust their efforts to trace a claimant, they are free to dispose it of.
"The police are fully responsible for an unclaimed body's disposal," insisted Dr Raja Marathe, medical officer at the Cooper Hospital. "We keep the body after post-mortem for a few days. If the police do not come forward to collect it, we send them reminders. But often they are reluctant to take the bodies away."
A top Mumbai police officer, who declined to be named, argued, "We are not in the picture. There is no rule that makes us responsible for the cremation of unclaimed bodies. It is the job of the hospital authorities."
So, there you are.
The problem is that there are no funds available for the disposal of unclaimed bodies – not with the police, nor with the hospitals. Some non-governmental organisations organise cremations/burials for unclaimed bodies periodically, but that is clearly not enough.
One police officer, who has spent his own money to get some corpses cremated, says he does it for his peace of mind. So do some of his colleagues.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Administration) P K Jain said the officers are reimbursed for the expenses incurred. But the officers complained that the procedure is so cumbersome that they would rather not get involved.
Vicky Malhotra's body is awaiting cremation since January this year at the Cooper Hospital. His is one of those few corpses that have a name. Most of the others have no identity. Their religion is identified from the bodily marks and clothes and the last rites are organised accordingly. On Monday, there were 48 unclaimed corpses in the hospital's morgue.
Bhagwati Hospital in Borivli had 36 such corpses. Six of them are lying there since May, the mortuary staff said.
The morgue at the JJ Hospital has as many as 72 corpses. The oldest of them arrived on March 15, 2004. It was brought to the hospital from the Marine Drive police station.
The Rajawadi Hospital morgue still holds 40 corpses.
The only exception to this sorry rule seems to be the Mumbai Municipal Corporation-run KEM Hospital. Its morgue had just five unidentified corpses, most of them less than a month old.
So, what is their secret, you wonder?
Sources in the hospital said: "We remind the police every day about unclaimed bodies... If they do not respond, we force them to transfer the bodies to state government-run hospitals."
Out of sight, out of mind. Simple!
In a city where people live like rats in slums, not everyone can afford dignity in death.