New Delhi: On Saturday evening, 22-year-old Sharif Khan brought his sister Anjum B. from Bareilly to the national capital in the hope that she would receive quality medical treatment. Her condition was fast deteriorating due to jaundice.
By Sunday, Khan was informed by the AIIMS Trauma Centre authorities that she was Covid-positive. Khan’s sister, a mother of three, died Monday night.
But this isn’t where Khan’s ordeal ended.
Khan wanted to see his sister one last time before she was taken to the burial ground. However, hospital authorities didn’t allow it and had wrapped the body in protective plastic. At the cemetery, he slipped Rs 500 to a worker there so he could see her. That not only bought him the opportunity, but a shock.
“I was wearing a PPE kit and looking down at the body. I wanted to take photographs and videos of the burial ceremony. As he (the workman) uncovered her face, I realised it was not even my sister,” Khan told ThePrint.
What Khan didn’t know at the time was that he was looking at Kusum Lata. Also a Covid casualty, the bodies of Lata and Anjum had accidentally got switched at the morgue. While Lata was sent to the burial ground, Anjum was handed over to Lata’s family, also wrapped in plastic. She ended up being cremated according to Hindu tradition, reported ANI quoting a police official.
ThePrint called AIIMS Trauma Centre, public relations officer, B.N. Acharya, but received no response until the time of publishing this report.
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The mix-up comes at a time when Delhi is still grappling with the pandemic. As of 8 July, there were 1,02,831 cases reported and 3,165 deaths. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Tuesday announced the government was setting up “vigilance teams called Nigrani Samiti to work alongside the surveillance system to check the novel coronavirus from spreading”.
At the cemetery
After Khan discovered Lata’s body, the ambulance driver rushed back with it and promised to return with the right body. Khan said he waited at the Delhi Gate burial ground for nearly 12 hours.
“I came to the trauma centre last (Tuesday) evening demanding answers, which is when I found out that her (Anjum’s) body had been sent to the Punjabi Bagh crematorium, instead.”
Since then, Khan and his three brothers have been running from pillar to post trying to get in touch with Lata’s family. Her body is now back at the morgue.
Khan even went to the Safdarjung Police station to file a complaint. “They refused to file a complaint till 10 pm on Tuesday evening. I have been trying to call them but no one is answering,” he alleged.
“Nobody is helping us. What if this happens to someone else as well?”
ThePrint reached the Safdarjung station house officer through phone calls and and even went to the station, but received no response until the time of publishing this report.
However, according to a report in The Hindu, a senior police officer said they were looking into the matter. Meanwhile, another report suggested that an inquiry had been set up in the matter and one person from the mortuary staff was sacked, while another was suspended.
Mohammed Shamim, the supervisor of the Covid-section of the Delhi Gate burial ground was present when Khan made the discovery.
“They were waiting here till late evening for the body to come. When he (Khan) found out that it was not his sister’s body, he was not that concerned. But when he found out that she had been cremated, he was furious,” Shamim told ThePrint.
The Islamic final rites custom is to bury a body, while the Hindu tradition is to cremate.
Shamim said a similar confusion had occurred on 7 June at the Maulana Azad Medical College mortuary, which falls under the ambit of the larger Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital.
“This has happened once before. But the confusion was within the burial ground. A father and a brother’s bodies had been switched because of identical names. But this is the first time a Muslim body was cremated,” he said.
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