Friday, 17 July 2015

Lahore: consistent procedure needed regarding unidentified bodies

Muhammad Younas, an official at the Edhi Welfare Foundation Lahore, throws a pile of files at a big table. The record, carrying pictures and available details about hundreds of unidentified bodies, have been compiled for years.

“All these bodies, temporarily buried in Miani Sahib, — one of the oldest and biggest graveyards of the town, have a permanent status now because the percentage of the bodies’ identification is quite low,” recalls the officer. Photographs are meant to be shown to those who come looking for their missing loved ones.

In the past six months, Edhi Foundation in Lahore has buried as many as 170 unidentified bodies with the help of police and Municipal Corporation. Most of the unidentified bodies are of men.

The number of unidentified bodies, sadly, is growing day by day in the dense cities of the country where law and order is fast becoming a challenge. The reason of death changes from area to area due to circumstances like heat wave, use of drugs, murder etc.

The procedure of identifying such bodies is delayed or overlooked in some cases.

In February this year, the federal government told the Supreme Court of Pakistan that as many as 4,557 bodies were found in the country over the past four years. The Punjab police submitted a report before the apex court stating that as many as 1,299 unidentified dead bodies were found in the province in the last two years. Out of them 1248 were buried and 51 were sent to the mortuary.

According to the stated procedures, police told the court, “If a body is unidentified, the officer making the investigation shall record a careful description of it — all marks, peculiarities, deformities and distinctive features. He shall take the finger impression in addition to taking all the reasonable steps to secure identification, have the body photographed and in cases where such action appears desirable, a description published in the Criminal Intelligence Gazette.” These unidentified bodies are temporarily buried in a graveyard of the concerned union council.

In the past six months, Edhi Foundation in Lahore has buried as many as 170 unidentified bodies. Most of the unidentified bodies are of men. In case unidentified bodies have been handed over to a charitable organisation for burial, the concerned secretary of the union council will follow through the burial proceedings. Law also binds the police to carry post-mortem of every unidentified body to know the cause of death and, if the person is known to have been murdered, the police are supposed to make all investigations into the matter.

However, an old worker at Edhi Foundation, asking not to be named, says the procedure is not implemented in letter and spirit. “The usual practice is to have postmortem of the body which is then handed over to Edhi for burial. If the police discern the dead person’s status, they store the body in the official mortuary for a certain period.” However, a senior police officer Ejaz Shafi Dogar says that police cannot rule out the defined procedure to handle unidentified dead bodies. “We are supposed to do maximum effort for the identification of the body and maintain the record.”

“There is need to make sure that police take finger prints of the unidentified body soon after its recovery for NADRA identification,” the Edhi official suggests, adding, “with the increasing population in big cities, the number of unidentified bodies is increasing gradually which should be a matter of concern for the government.”

Not many people know that the unidentified bodies, kept in the official mortuary, become the property of the dead house after six months, and are usually sold to medical colleges for dissection purposes.

“In many cases, police neglect can be seen in delaying or overlooking the procedures. Sometimes, the bodies are kept unidentified because their identification can expose some crime, adding to the police work which they don’t like to do,” says Dr Naseeb R Awan, Head of Forensic Department of King Edward Medical College. “There is no system followed so the concerned departments also try to shift their responsibilities to others,” he says. “There is need for serious efforts to review the laws, rules and procedures regarding unidentified bodies so that they are identified. It is also important to make the efforts transparent.”

Friday 17 July 2015


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