No place for the dead in Lahore’s silent cities

Unclaimed bodies are being buried outside city due to lack of space in graveyards

Nouman Sheikh July 21, 2019

LAHORE: The dead, especially those who leave behind no families or loved ones, are finding it almost impossible to find a final resting place. Bodies lie abandoned in public spaces and this phenomenon is becoming a matter of increasing concern for the provincial capital at large.

The administration of the Shehar-e-Khamoshan graveyard has turned a blind eye to these unclaimed bodies, reportedly due to a lack of funds.  Spending money on the burial of police personnel has become another issue.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Edhi Trust Spokesperson Younus Bhatti says three to four unclaimed bodies are found from different parts of the city every day. “Most of those found are of people who died due to drug overdoses and/or lack of medical treatment.”

He maintains that managing burials was a matter of routine until the government changed last year.

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Recently, the police, on the orders of the Deputy Commissioner (DC), called the local Edhi Centre to provide a shroud for a dead body and shift it to the morgue. The body was expected to be buried in Shehar-e-Khamoshan. Later on, it was realised by the graveyard’s administration that they could not accommodate any more graves due to a lack of resources. The Edhi Trust then decided to bury the bodies in “Ahata-e-Lawaaris”, a space designated for abandoned bodies in the Miani Sahib graveyard. However, due to a lack of space in Ahata-e-Lawaaris, abandoned bodies are now being buried outside the city.

The spokesperson further quotes the Edhi Centre’s records and reveals that during the last six months, the number of abandoned bodies has reached 206. “These bodies are found in areas including Hangarwal, Civil Lines, Mochi Gate, Kotwali, Shera Kot, Nawan Kot, Lytton Road, Naulakha, Larri Ada, Bhatti Gate, Data Darbar, Tibbi City, Shahdara Town, Misri Shah and Garhi Shahu.”

He adds that the bodies are initially kept in a morgue for seven days after which burial becomes necessary.

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Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations Ismail Kharak says that whenever the local police receive information of an abandoned body, an officer of the police station concerned is bound to move it to a morgue. “The burial then takes place under the officer’s supervision. Police also advertise a picture of the body in various newspapers in hopes of finding possible relatives of the dead.” He continues that a seven-day waiting period is maintained in case a relative of the deceased claims the body. “The body is then handed over to relatives after legal formalities, but if no one stakes a claim, it is buried after an autopsy.”

The SSP further says that the administration of Shehar-e-Khamoshan has been requested to accommodate the recently found corpse.

The station house officer (SHO) of a local police station says that the total costs, that arise from the time a body is found up to publishing an advertisement in the newspaper, is around Rs6,000. “The police have to bear all these costs and the department does not allocate a specific budget for this purpose.”

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He adds that when permission is sought from local graveyard administrations, they refuse a burial due to a lack of space and remark that the premises is allocated for locals whose relatives have already claimed the body.

Former Chief Special Monitoring Unit Salman Sufi says that an official Shehar-e-Khamoshan Authority had previously been established and it used to be run by a board. “A block was allocated for unclaimed bodies in the graveyard, but the board was terminated after the incumbent government came to power. No one has been appointed yet to lead the authority. A lot of problems have occurred ever since.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2019.

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