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7/11: The case of the stolen body

Krishnakumar P | July 10, 2008 17:35 IST

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On July 11, 2006, when seven bombs exploded aboard suburban trains in Mumbai, a shocking subplot unfolded, but was quickly forgotten in the post-blast melee. A construction labourer was arrested for stealing the body of a blast victim and claiming compensation. Not much was revealed and the case was quickly forgotten.

Two years on, former Lok Sabha MP Kirit Somaiya, who played a part in helping the family of the deceased -- 55-year-old Jitendra Gandhi -- narrates how the drama unfolded, alleging that individuals from the bureaucratic chain involved in granting compensation were involved in the incident and the labourer was only a front for them.

For three days after the blasts, Mitul Gandhi searched all over the city for his father Jitendra who did not return home July 11, the day of the serial blasts. When he could not trace his father till July 14, he placed an advertisement in a Gujarati newspaper.

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Then a family friend put him on to Somaiya, saying the Bharatiya Janata Party leader had experience helping victims of an earlier blast on a train in his constituency.

When Mitul Gandhi got in touch with Somaiya, the politician asked him to go to the Andheri and Jogeshwari police stations in northwest Mumbai. When Gandhi went to the Andheri police station, the policemen there showed him the belongings of those who were killed in the Jogeshwari blast and whose bodies were sent to the Cooper Hospital nearby. Mitul spotted his father's wallet and first class railway pass among the belongings. This meant his father had been killed in the blast. His ordeal had just begun.

Mitul then went to the Cooper Hospital. Four days had passed since the blasts. At the hospital, he was told that all the bodies brought there had been handed over to relatives by July 14.

Did the hospital officials check the identity of those who claimed the bodies, Mitul asked. The hospital authorities had not. But they had photographed the 28 bodies that had been taken to the hospital and had information about those who had claimed the bodies.

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Mitul was shown the photographs. He identified his father. But the hospital authorities did not know who precisely had claimed his father's body.

A crestfallen Mitul returned home and called Somaiya who put him through to a senior police officer under whose jurisdiction both the hospital and police station fell. The officer promised all help and asked Mitul to see him the next morning.

On the morning of July 16, Mitul went to meet the officer. He was assigned a constable and asked to go to the hospital and get the addresses of all those who had claimed the bodies. The officer asked the constable to accompany Mitul to each of the homes and show them Jitendra Gandhi's photograph and check if they had mistaken him for their kin. Mitul did that, but to his dismay, all the 28 homes denied claiming the body of the man in the photograph.

The police officer asked Mitul to return to his office the next morning.

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This time, the officer gave Mitul a police jeep and a team of three policemen to go along with him. What the officer asked Mitul to do was this: Go to the same homes again. This time, show them all the 28 photographs. Ask them to identify their kin, and then support their claim with an earlier photograph they had of the deceased.

Mitul followed the instructions. One after another, 27 families first pointed out their kin from the portfolio of photographs and then backed up their claim with an earlier photograph.

The last family fumbled at the first step itself. Then the man broke down. "I stole your father's body," he told Mitul, who was by now close to tears. Before anything Mitul wanted to know what the man had done with the body. The man, a poor construction labourer, had cremated it according to Hindu custom at an Oshiwara crematorium. When Mitul asked him about the ashes, the man said he did not take it. Mitul took the man to the crematorium and asked him to show the place where he had cremated his father. The man identified the location. Thankfully for Mitul, the ashes were still there. He collected the ashes and performed the final rituals for his father.

The police arrested the labourer, but Mitul forgave the man and decided against any action against him.

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