New Delhi: Gold bangles with tortoises carved on them, red nail polish, a patch of the purple suit she wore that day — these identifiers are how family members of eight people killed in the Mundka fire identified their bodies.
Twenty-seven bodies, charred beyond recognition and some even missing body parts, have been recovered from the four-storey building near the Mundka metro station where a massive blaze erupted Friday.
“Over 100 people had assembled in that small hall on the second floor. Their bodies were so charred that one could not even see some of the hands and legs,” Delhi Fire Services chief Atul Garg told ThePrint, adding that some of the bodies were stuck to each other, making the task of their identification even more difficult.
Garg explained that most of those present in the building lost consciousness after smoke filled up the rooms, which is why they were charred to death once the fire spread. “Moreover, there were plastic materials, which also added to the disaster,” he added.
Of the bodies recovered from the building, 19 are yet to be identified as families await the results of DNA analysis, which usually takes a month or so. Samples of all 27 bodies recovered from the building are also being sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Delhi’s Rohini.
“So far, DNA samples have been collected from family members of 20 victims and the process for the rest is on. Some of the relatives are yet to reach, as they are native of other states like Bihar. We are trying our best to expedite the process,” said DCP (Outer) Sameer Sharma.
“We will try to provide the results within a week to 10 days,” a source told ThePrint, adding that as many as 20 bones and 40 DNA samples have been sent for analysis.
Explaining the process, Sanjeev Gupta, chief of the crime scene management division at FSL, said: “First, DNA extraction is done with the help of phenol chloroform method and preserved in a buffer. Then it is run in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method for amplification — to make copies, which is further run in the sequencer where a graph is created. This graph is matched with the DNA sample.”
DNA samples were also collected from bodies of victims that were handed over to the families once they were identified. These bodies were identified on the basis of either an accessory or some other distinct identifier.
How families identified bodies of loved ones
Vijay Pal had gifted Mohini, his wife of 23 years, a gold bangle with a tortoise carved on it. This token of his love was the only thing that helped him identify the remains of his wife, who worked in the admin department of the company that occupied three floors of the building in Mundka.
“Her face was burnt, body was half burnt. One could hardly see anything. Sab kankaal ho rakha tha (everything was reduced to skeletal remains). As I was losing hope, I saw the shiny bangle, the hand was burnt, but the gold bangle and the tortoise mark was glinting,” Vijay Pal told ThePrint.
The couple is survived by a 22-year-old son.
A similar story is that of Kailash Jyani and his son Amit, who were among the eight victims whose bodies have been identified by their families.
On the day of the fire, about 150 people had assembled on the second floor of the four-storey building to hear a motivational speech by Kailash Jyani, a former NAFED employee. His son Amit, who lived with his family in Australia, was visiting home.
“Amit’s wife and children are in Australia, they are Australian citizens. He was supposed to return back in a couple of days,” said Kailash’s nephew Bhupender, adding that the wife and son are yet to arrive from Australia.
“We identified them with the help of the jewellery they were wearing. Kailash uncle was wearing a ring, Amit had worn a gold chain,” Bhupender told ThePrint.
The family of Tania Bhushan (26), another victim, identified her body with the help of a patch of the purple suit she wore that day. “There was a piece of the purple suit she was wearing, stuck on her body,” said her father Chandra Bhushan, adding that Tania had been working for the company for the last two years.
“On Friday, around 4:30 pm, she (Tania) called my wife, and asked her to call the fire department. When we called her back, the phone was switched off. While on call, we could hear people screaming, those voices will never leave our memory,” Chandra Bhushan told ThePrint.
Santosh Kumar, the husband of victim Ranju Devi, narrated a similar ordeal. Kumar said he was able to identify his wife’s body by recognising the red nail polish she wore that morning, along with a bangle on her wrist.
But most families who lost their loved ones to this tragedy are now waiting for DNA analysis for identification of bodies.
Among them is the family of 21-year-old Monica Tiwari.
“The bodies have all turned to ashes, some have no hands, no legs; all black, only bones left,” her brother Pawan Kumar said, adding that the police have sought a DNA sample of their brother Suraj to match it with samples taken from bodies recovered from the building.
Also missing is Praveen Gupta, who had been working in the company as a graphic designer for the last 8-9 years. Praveen’s brother Pawan says his DNA samples will be used to identify his brother’s remains.
The family of Madhu, who is among those missing, has been waiting for answers at Delhi’s Sanjay Gandhi hospital since Friday. “Nana (grandfather) and Mama (uncle) are coming from Bihar. They will arrive in two hours. We had no one here to give DNA sampling yesterday,” her nephew Vikram Kumar said.
“We don’t know what to tell her children. The four-year-old hasn’t stopped crying, she keeps waiting at the door for her. What will we tell them? There is no closure to this,” Vikram told ThePrint.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)