It took a year and two months for the body to arrive from Saudi Arabia, and it has spent another five months in the mortuary at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport. But the family of Jaswinder Singh, killed in a fire incident in Saudi Arabia in 2015, have refused to take the remains home, demanding that a DNA test be conducted first to determine the identity.
For months after his reported death in November 2015, says his Ludhiana-based family, Jaswinder’s phone was being answered. Even though no one spoke at the other end, that has kept up his family’s hopes alive.
A resident of Kotla Dhak village of Ludhiana district, Jaswinder had been working as a diesel mechanic in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Kharj province since 2013 and is reported to have died in a fire incident in his company-provided accommodation on November 27, 2015.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday gave 28 days to the Ministry of External Affairs to obtain the DNA report from Saudi Arabia, where the test was conducted before the authorities released the body. On instructions from the MEA, Jaswinder’s family members had sent DNA samples for identity match in December 2016 after 10 reminders from the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.
But Jaswinder’s brother Dalbir Singh, in a writ petition before the High Court, has said they received no DNA report when the body was brought to IGI on January 22 this year.
“When the remains reached the airport, there were neither post-mortem papers nor the DNA report, though we had sent the DNA samples from here. We have many clues which make us believe he could be alive or is in some problem. His phone was working even seven-eight months after his death but there was no voice at the other end,” Dalbir, who drives an auto-rickshaw, told The Indian Express, adding that only the DNA report could confirm or negate their fears.
According to a communication of the Indian Embassy in Riyadh, a copy of which has been been filed in the High Court, four Indian nationals died at Al-Kharj in the fire incident in which Jaswinder’s death took place.
In January 2016, Jaswinder’s family had written on the MEA’s grievance portal Madad that they had received news from Jaswinder’s colleagues of his death in a fire incident, and requested more information on this incident. There are also differing dates of Jaswinder’s death.
The Indian Embassy in Riyadh wrote back the same month that the Al Kharj police had confirmed the incident and that among the six people killed, four were Indians and Jaswinder was one of them.
After the repeated reminders for the DNA samples, Jaswinder’s family finally submitted the DNA samples in December 2016 and asked for the repatriation of the body. After the NOC from the Embassy for dispatch of the mortal remains, the Saudi authorities issued a death certificate and legal medical report on January 22 this year, saying the death was caused by “heart and breathing stoppage as a result of burns, wound charcoal in most part of the body.”
The Embassy had also dispatched a bill of “legal dues” amounting to over Rs 1 lakh to the family on January 10. However, the MEA confirmed in the High Court in March that the family did not have to pay and as per norms, this bill has to be settled by the sponsor or employer of Jaswinder.
Advocate Aditya Sharda, counsel for Jaswinder’s brother, Dalbir, said the DNA sample of the family could be matched with the remains that are in Delhi.
“What could save time and expedite the justice process is to conduct the test again by matching the DNA samples of the family with the remains in Delhi. Otherwise, the MEA has already asked the Saudi authorities for the DNA report but it is yet to be received,” said Sharda.