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When the dead have no name

  • Published at 02:05 am October 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:46 pm October 27th, 2017
When the dead have no name
On April 22, 2012, police recovered the half-decomposed body of a woman from the MP’s hostel located at Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban Square. Though statements from at least 15 members of parliament (MPs) were collected during the subsequent police investigation, neither the murderer nor the woman was ever identified. Over the last two and a half years, a total of 3,311 unidentified dead bodies such as this have been recovered from different areas of the country, including 700 in the first half of this year alone – an average of almost 117 each month, or four per day. Physical appearances suggest that most of the deceased were Bangladeshi and that many of them had been murdered. According to Police Headquarters statistics, 2,454 of the bodies recovered were male, and 857 were female. Around one third of the unidentified corpses (1,119) were recovered from the railway range area. Superintendent of Railway Police (East zone) Nazrul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that as the railway sidings in Bangladesh do not have much protection, many people who sit idly or set up markets near the tracks die after being hit by trains. Sources said the stretch of railway line from the airport to Gazipur is among at least 10 areas of the capital which regularly witness bodies being recovered. The others are: Mirpur Beribadh, Demra, Shyampur, Jatrabari, Kamrangirchar Beribadh and Keraniganj; and the areas adjoining the Buriganga and Dhaleshwari rivers. In most cases, the cases filed over the unidentified bodies make no progress at all, as the victims remain unidentified when the police submit the final report. The Police Headquarters figures reveal that only 17 charge sheets have been submitted in the past two years, while another 37 cases are being investigated. A study conducted by Dr Harun Ur Rashid of Sir Salimullah Medical College’s Forensic Medicine Department found that at least 40% of bodies belong to poor families, who are less inclined to identify the victim. Around 30% of the corpses are recovered from rivers. Most of their deaths are caused by naval accidents. Since the bodies get decomposed while floating in the water, it becomes almost impossible to identify them, the study says. Dr Harun found the remaining bodies were those of murder victims, and that the causes of death had greatly hampered the body identification process. The physician also said the unidentified deceased are buried in most cases with their DNA test reports still unpublished.

How police work after finding unidentified bodies

After recovering a body, police generally send it to the morgue of a medical college hospital, where it undergoes an autopsy. The corpse is then kept in the morgue for three to four days in order for its identity to be ascertained. Police initially lodge an unnatural death (UD) case and then convert this into a murder case if they find sufficient evidence of foul play. In addition, police notify all police stations within the locality about the unidentified corpse. If nobody claims the body, police and hospital authorities hand it over to the charity foundation, Anjuman Mofidul Islam. Police also preserve the deceased’s clothes, tissue samples and photographs, eventually submitting a final report in court in the event that they have been unable to determine the victim’s identity. Assistant Inspector General (media) Sahely Ferdous of Police Headquarters said a major reason why so many recovered bodies remain unidentified is that miscreants kill their target in one place and dump their body at another location. In order to improve the identification rate, Dhaka Metropolitan Police has started publishing photos of the dead bodies on its website and official Facebook page. “Most people do not easily get information in the media about unknown dead bodies,” DMP’s Deputy Commissioner (media) Masudur Rahman said. “For this reason, the identification rate of the unknown deceased is low.”

Police reluctance

Several human rights activists have claimed the police deliberately refrain from identifying a victim or probing an allegation to avert possible pressure on them to solve the case. Nur Khan, the former executive director (acting) of Ain o Salish Kendra, said the police show “a great negligence” in helping to find a missing person, even though his or her family members go through the proper legal procedures. “It is the state’s responsibility to help confirm the identity of the unknown deceased but the authorities concerned try to skip their duties in this regard,” he observed. “The reluctance from the police actually encourages the killers.”

Bad practice hinders identifications

Because of the lack of storage space, the morgue authorities quickly arrange for burials, which adversely affects the collection of evidence including fingerprints since most of the bodies decompose in a short span of time after burial. In addition, Ilias Ahmed, the executive director of Anjuman Mofidul Islam, said they bury the dead bodies they receive from hospitals and the police authorities and record the dates only. “When the police or members of the public ask about any dead body or grave, we give information about the bodies buried on a specific date,” he said. The city corporation authorities do not preserve the graves after a certain period of time, which further denies the victims’ relatives of the chance to claim a body.
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