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One Christian,7 Muslims,4 Hindus & a common funeral

Seven Muslims,four Hindus and one Christian. To bury or to cremate? And where?

Written by Saritha Rai | June 3, 2010 1:49:51 am

Seven Muslims,four Hindus and one Christian. To bury or to cremate? And where?

The families of 12 of the 158 people killed in the Air India Express crash two weeks ago never got a chance to perform the last rites or offer final prayers for their loved ones according to their faith.

Gross bungling by the district authorities initially led to the wrong bodies being handed over to claimants without verification. The upshot was there were 12 charred bodies and no DNA match with any of the claimant families. In addition to the shock of the tragedy and the ten-day ordeal of not finding the bodies of their loved ones,the dozen heartbroken families coped with one common prayer and final farewell this afternoon at a neutral spot by the Arabian Sea.

“We did not agree to a mass burial,the authorities are doing this without the consent of individual families,” said Mohammad Arif,an oil field worker in the Jebel Ali Free Zone who lost his brother,sister-in-law and their two children in the crash. The family was travelling back from Dubai to attend his mother’s funeral in Udupi.

Chaos prevailed on the day of the crash and even a day later with victims’ bodies scattered in different morgues,Arif said. The family could finally identify the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law. His nephew Zubair,4,and niece Zainab,3,too,perished in the crash but only a single child’s body remained unclaimed. “Even if there has been an identity mix-up,where is the other child’s body?” the family asked the police but they have received no answer.

“I am not in any condition to say anything,” said Patricia D’Souza,wife of victim Ignatius D’Souza who was an employee at an Abu Dhabi-based hospitality company. After the crash when the D’Souza family turned up to collect what they thought was his remains,three other families were ahead of them claiming the same body.

The DNA results only portray the ham-fisted response by authorities acting under the pressure of the situation. Mangalore city police commissioner Seemanth Kumar Singh told The Indian Express that on the day of the crash,huge groups of distraught family members had arrived at the hospitals to lay claim to the bodies. “At that point,it was impossible to argue with or question the distressed families,” he said. Singh said that some of the bodies were so scorched in the fire that it was hard to say “whether it was a child or a body part.”

The Air India Express flight with 166 passengers overshot the hill top landing strip,crashed into a valley and burst into flames,the fire singeing many bodies beyond recognition. The earliest claimants were handed the bodies upon recognizing a piece of clothing,a wrist watch or even a shoe. One family claimed a body but later returned it to the police saying the features did not match their dead family member’s appearance.

“There has been no humanity in dealing with those families who could not find their loved one,no feeling,no empathy,” said M.A. Gafoor,a resident of Udupi who is representing some of the families and helping them liaise with authorities. Gafoor is the president of the Congress Party’s Udupi unit.

Confronted by multiple claimants the district authorities finally decided to get the remaining 22 bodies verified by the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics. The Centre made 10 successful matches. But in a report delivered on Tuesday,the Centre finally said that the DNA profiling of the rest of the 12 bodies did not match any of the claimants – families of 11 passengers and one cabin crew member.

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