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Disputes arise over bodies recovered in Delhi blasts

By Saikat Chakrabarty in New Delhi
October 30, 2005 19:32 IST
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Looking distraught, Gurgaon-based doctor Preeti Sahay wandered from one hospital to another on Sunday searching for her missing husband Atul. "He had gone to Sarojini Nagar at about the time of the blasts but did not return or call me. His car is still standing at the market," Preeti said between sobs, red-eyed after a tearful, sleepless night.

She has visited all the hospitals where Saturday's blast victims have been taken but is yet to locate her husband. A relative of Preeti's says they saw two badly charred bodies, one of which could have been that of Atul's. "We want that DNA tests be done as soon as possible but neither the doctors nor the police are telling us how to go about it," he says.

Preeti, however, is not alone in her predicament. Hundreds of anxious people are searching for their kin, who cannot be traced after the blasts tore through Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj markets on Saturday.

A day after the deadliest terrorist attack in Delhi, a surreal atmosphere prevails in Safdarjung Hospital, where most of the injured are being treated. Its mortuary also has the most number of body bags.

Streams of people have still have not been able to locate their missing relatives who did not return home on Saturday night. They talk to personnel manning help-desks, virtually begging for any information - even if it is the worst.

But with many bodies charred beyond recognition, doctors say only DNA tests may be able to identify the dead. The tests can be done only if no claimants come forward or the bodies are disputed, police say.

At the mortuary, the scene is even more disturbing with many laying claim to the same bodies.

Anupam Gupta, who suffered minor burn injuries, has just returned after cremating his wife Rachna. But turmoil is far from over for him. Relatives of a Indian Air Force Sergeant who died in the Sarojini Nagar explosion have laid claim to the body of a boy, which Gupta had identified on Saturday night as that of his three-year-old son Utkarsh.

After a brief exchange of words with them, Gupta seems confused. His friend Anil Saxena blames the police for the confusion. "If we had made a positive identification on Saturday when the body had not become coal black, what is the need of showing the body to another person now," asks Saxena.

A police official on the spot says it is their duty to show bodies to anyone who is still to locate his or her kin. For Apurba Sharma, a tourist from Assam, the trauma has become almost unbearable as he has no friends here to lend a shoulder. He has identified two bodies as those of his four-year-old daughter Upamani and eight-year-old niece Moitrye. But a counter claim has been laid on Upamani's 'body' by the dead Sergeant's relatives.

In the melee, even senior police and defence officers could be seen searching for their missing colleagues. One of them was a senior police official from Uttar Pradesh, Piyush Shrivastava, who was looking for a colleague whose name he did not disclose.

Many of those at the hospital had lost some their family members but were still searching for others. N K Bhattacharya says he has located the bodies of his Kolkata-based brother Satyabrata and his wife Supriya. But there is no word yet about their 13-year-old son Sayan.

Nearby, a distraught Alwin says her nephew Monty has died but her injured sister Babli wants to know about the fate of her husband John. "My sister has 40 percent burn injuries and has lost part of her foot but what is killing her is that there is still no news about her husband," Alwin says.

For their part, hospital authorities say they are doing all they can to help those searching for missing kin. "We have put up lists of the injured being treated here and there are help-desks too," says a doctor. The Civil Defence has also stepped into the scene to help relatives, establishing a help-desk and help-lines.

Subhash Gupta, Chief Warden, South-West district of the Civil Defence, says they have received thousands of calls from as far as the United States, Australia, London and the Gulf since the helplines were set up on Saturday evening.

"Many called up here after they failed to contact their friends or kin who were holidaying here. But we have no information about any foreigner injured as of now," he says.

Complete coverage: Blasts in New Delhi

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Saikat Chakrabarty in New Delhi
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