Families await DNA tests in fight over India train crash victims: ‘There are headless bodies, maybe my father is one of them’

Dozens of bodies remain unclaimed as time runs out to unite them with next of kin

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
in West Bengal
Wednesday 07 June 2023 15:42 BST
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India train crash: Families of victims speak out after fatal derailment

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Distressed family members of victims of the Odisha train crash are being forced to take DNA tests before claiming the corpses of their loved ones, following chaos and confusion over bodies with multiple claimants.

Five days after India witnessed its worst rail accident this century, at least 82 bodies remained unclaimed at the AIIMS hospital in Bhubaneswar city.

At least 33 DNA samples collected from those claiming to be relatives of the dead have been sent to the capital Delhi for verification. The reports will be handed over to the authorities in Odisha in two days, officials said.

The death toll from Friday’s accident was revised for the fourth time to 288 late on Tuesday, Odisha chief secretary PK Jena said.

The crash took place when the overcrowded Chennai-bound Coromandel Express entered a loop track and ploughed into a parked freight train near Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore.

The crash caused the engine and first four or five coaches of the Coromandel Express to jump the tracks, topple and hit the last two coaches of the Yeshvantpur-Howrah train heading in the opposite direction at 78mph on the second main track.

Some relatives of victims from neighbouring West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand have tried and failed to identify their kin despite two large screens at the hospital displaying graphic images of charred and bloodied bodies with an allocated number.

Several of the bodies are damaged beyond recognition, with relatives looking for tell-tale pieces of clothing in the images instead.

Rana Saha, who had been looking for his father for the past four days, told The Independent: ‘‘I have given a DNA sample at the hospital and was asked to wait for two days.

‘‘There are headless bodies, maybe my father is one of them. But we don’t remember what he was wearing when he boarded the train,’’ he said, adding that the wait had been ‘‘extremely painful’’ for his mother and the rest of the family.

Mohammad Imam Ul Haq’s relatives bid farewell to other family members before an ambulance leaves with a makeshift coffin carrying his nephew
Mohammad Imam Ul Haq’s relatives bid farewell to other family members before an ambulance leaves with a makeshift coffin carrying his nephew (REUTERS)

Chaos ensued on Tuesday after multiple people placed a claim on a single body amid allegations that officials have been handing over corpses to the wrong family.

Parvej Sahraj Laskar from West Bengal’s Couth 24 Parganas district travelled more than 100 miles to Balasore to claim his father’s body, only to find out that it had already been claimed by someone else.

His cousin, Jakari Laskar, said that upon showing the photo of his uncle’s body with the tag number at the mortuary, they were told the body had been released to a family in Malda district.

‘‘They are now asking us to give our DNA sample for matching but what is its use if the body has already been handed over to another family?’’ Mr Laskar was quoted by the New Indian Express as saying.

Mohammed Imam Ul Haq, from Bihar, said he found the body of one nephew on Tuesday, but the remains of what he thinks was a second nephew were claimed by another family.

Mr Haq had also been searching for four days for his brother, who he believed had also died with his children.

He said he believed a body at the hospital was that of his 12-year-old nephew, but added that ‘‘there are five more claimants who are saying it is their relative’’.

‘‘We are left with no option but to do a DNA test to determine whose body it is. The whole process takes really long,’’ he told Reuters. ‘‘I hope we can claim the body soon.’’

Bhubaneswar Municipal commissioner Vijay Amruta Kulange said that from now on wherever there is confusion over the identity of a body, a decision will be taken only after conducting DNA tests of those involved.

He added that unidentified bodies would be kept in the hospital morgue for the next 10 days. “The government would not hurry to cremate or bury them,” he said, though it remains unclear what will happen once the deadline is passed.

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