Nearly 14 months after his death in Saudi Arabia, and two post-mortems in that country later, a third autopsy done at AIIMS in the national capital has ruled out hanging as the cause of Indian worker Mohammad Afsar’s death.
The authorities in Saudi Arabia had identified suffocation from hanging (ostensibly indicating suicide) as a cause of death after the twin autopsies — the second one at the insistence of the family, and followed up by the Indian embassy in Riyadh, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has told the Delhi High Court.
The post-mortem at AIIMS was carried out Monday on the court’s order on May 6, six days after the body was repatriated. While the final autopsy report is yet to be released, Dr Sudhir Gupta, head of forensic medicine at AIIMS, said: “Our autopsy has ruled out death due to hanging, or suicidal in nature. But the body has been embalmed for so long that it has been mummified. It is not possible to comment on the cause of death.”
It has been a long, petition-laden fight for the family to get the body back.
Afsar, 32, came from Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand and was working in Saudi Arabia since 2013 with a private company as a bulldozer operator. He had died sometime after he had last spoken with his wife — on March 13 last year. His family suspects there could have been foul play, as Afsar had mentioned having had arguments with his employer over leave. “His employer wanted him to serve out the five-year contract but Afsar was desperate to go home — he had asked for his passport and pending salary,” Zulfikar Ansari, his elder brother, told The Indian Express.
Afsar had assured his wife that he would “sort out the issue the following day and return to India by the end of that month,” his brother said.
Ansari claims Afsar could not be reached on the phone after that. They learnt that he had died only two days later – when his employer answered Afsar’s phone.
According to the family’s lawyer, Jose Abraham, the first autopsy conducted in Saudi Arabia had identified hanging as the cause of death. Afsar’s family did not believe he could have hanged himself. “On April 1, 2015, they wrote to the Union Finance and External Affairs ministers, as well as the Indian embassy in Riyadh, seeking impartial investigation,” Abraham said.
When that did not help, Afsar’s wife Naushaba Bano moved a petition in Delhi HC on December 22, seeking direction to repatriate his body. The HC directed the Centre and the Indian embassy in Riyadh to “ensure that the mortal remains…are transported to India… and preferably within four weeks”.
On April 8, 2016, with the body still to be brought back, the family filed a contempt petition in HC. It finally arrived on April 30.
“It took us another petition (on May 6) to get permission for his post-mortem. But now we are told that the law does not allow the government to do anything beyond that. How do I explain this to his wife and five-year-old daughter,” Ansari asked while making preparations to take his brother’s body back to his village for burial. The body reached the family’s village late Tuesday evening.