Shafiqul Islam is one among the several hundred relatives of the Savar Rana Plaza victims who went home on May 14 with broken hearts as the operation to rescue survivors from under the debris officially ended and they did not get back the bodies of their near and dear ones.
However, Shafiqul did not lose hope of finding the body of his daughter, Shyamoli Khatun, who used to work as a line operator at a factory on the third floor of Rana Plaza.
He donated samples to the national forensic DNA profiling laboratory at the Dhaka Medical College, searched the bodies kept at morgues and kept in contact with the district administration office. He visits the Jurain Graveyard every week where the bodies of the unidentified Rana Plaza victims were buried.
“I am looking for her whereabouts constantly. The DNA lab has yet to confirm her body,” he said when the Dhaka Tribune correspondent met with him a few weeks back, in front of Rana Plaza.
Like Shafiqul, many of the victims’ relatives are now looking for the bodies of their near and dear ones, and want to know who took those bodies away.
The eight-storeyed building collapsed on April 24 last year, killing around 1,140 people, mainly female garment workers of the factories housed in that building, and injuring over 2,500 others.
According to the DC office, a total of 1,136 people were killed during the deadly collapse and only 845 of the bodies were handed over to the families at different times. The remaining 291 bodies were sent to the DNA profiling lab for examinations and identification of 206 bodies was confirmed in three phases. As many as 85 bodies have yet to be identified.
The Dhaka Tribune has conducted an investigation into the matter and found that the district administration handed over at least 22 bodies from the Adhar Chandra School playground to the wrong families in between April 24 and May 14 last year.
These bodies have been buried at the Jurain Graveyard, marked as “unidentified bodies,” and later were identified through DNA sampling.
The Savar upazila administration, however, admits that 10 bodies remain missing.
The 22 victims are Nur-e-Alam Shikder from Jhalakathi, Keya Akhter from Rajbari, Md Abu Taher from Bogra, Md Abu Sayeed from Rangpur, Alpana Dashi from Savar, Marzina Begum from Rajbari, Jinnat Ara Popy from Barisal, M Tutul Titu from Chandpur, Rasheda from Gaibandha, Shushanta Das from Habiganj, Selim Sheikh from Rajshahi, Md Baki Sheikh from Khulna, Nazimuddin from Naogaon, Sagorika Rani Das from Manikganj, Israfil from Mymensingh, Sumon from Chittagong, Chan Banu from Naogaon, Mamtaz from Tangail, Md Shahadat from Kurigram, Benu Rani Das from Savar, Dhaka, Md Jasim Uddin from Gaibandha and Shilpi Akter from Thakurgaon.
The relatives of these victims identified the bodies, most of which were decomposed, by checking the colour of their dresses or birth marks.
Officials related to the handover process said it had been too tough for them to identify all the bodies.
The Dhaka Tribune has talked to all these families and none of them are now unwilling to face any hassle since the bodies have already been buried at the family graveyards in different districts and they would be required to repay the money given to them from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the DC office.
Jaru Sheikh, husband of the deceased Marzina Begum, said he had received the body from Adhar Chandra School 13 days after the collapse.
“I received the body after cross checking the colour of the dress she put on that day. However, the DNA profiling lab has informed me that the body of my wife, which matched the sample given by my son Sajal, was buried at the Jurain Graveyard.
“I am confused, but nothing can be done now. I do not want any hassle now,” he told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday.
“I have received my son’s dead body from the school ground. It was separated from the waist; we did not get his head. However, the DNA lab is now claiming that the original body is at Jurain Graveyard, but we are not interested any more,” said Md Ahad Box, father of the deceased Md Abu Taher.
Another worker Shilpi Akter’s father, Md Foizul Haque, said the authorities had handed over his daughter’s body after finding a mobile phone with the dead body.
“The officials called me and delivered the decomposed body to me. We have already buried her in Thakurgaon. But the DNA lab has recently informed us that the original body is now at the Jurain Graveyard.”
All these 22 families have received Tk1 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and Tk20,000 from the district administration. Now they are tensed about whether they have to repay the money and return the bodies.
It is alleged that some unscrupulous groups were active in taking away the bodies of the dead workers from the school ground as Tk20,000, in cash, was involved with the issue. Police detained some of these frauds from the site, between April 24 and May 16, according to locals.
When the issue was brought before Savar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Kamrul Hasan Molla, now in-charge of the debris site, said they had found that 10 bodies were handed over to the wrong families during the chaotic situation just after the building collapsed.
“In many occasions, we have mentioned that there were 301 unidentified bodies. But we sent 291 bodies to the DNA laboratory for tests as the other 10 were handed over to the wrong families,” he said, admitting the matter.
Referring to the handover process, he said: “We are now trying to collect the DNA samples of these bodies. It is a continuous process.
We delivered the bodies after a primary verification of valid documents, a check of voter ID cards or through making phone calls. When we called the family members, they said they had already taken away the bodies of their relatives and that those were already buried.”
On the issue of mismatch, he said if the authorities received any concrete information on the mismatch in delivering the bodies, “we will consider the issue seriously. But we have yet to receive any concrete information. The solution may lie in DNA testing of the bodies buried by the relatives.”