‘We are running out of space to keep the dead’

The Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth has the capacity to hold 300 bodies at a time.

Tooba Masood August 16, 2014


There were four men standing outside the office of Riyasat Ali Khan, the Edhi Morgue night supervisor. A tall man with a handlebar moustache thrust a piece of paper in Khan’s face and asked: “Where is Asif Ali’s body?”

Khan, who is used to dealing with emotional family and party members, remains calm and asks when the body was brought to the morgue. He starts going through one of the several registers kept on his desk. His eyes skimming through names and numbers identifying the dead kept at the morgue. He taps his finger on the register and looks up at the man. “You know I can’t give you any further details till you show me a letter from the police station,” he said prepared to face an argument. “That is how it’s done.”

For five minutes, the man remains silent. The short man with a potbelly standing next to him takes the paper from his hand and informs Khan that the body was brought in three days ago.

This piece of paper isn’t just any piece of paper - it is a photocopy of a document from the police station where the FIR of the case was registered - when, where and how the body was found, and who they hold responsible.

According to Khan, standard procedure goes something like this — a body is taken to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the Civil hospital or Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. Once the medico-legal formalities and autopsy is done, the body is brought to the morgue. In most murder, target killing and road accident cases the police gets involved and they have to send the morgue a letter to keep the body in cold storage. Family members, friends or party members can come to identify and claim the body within three days after which the bodies are buried. However, in some cases the police can ask them to keep the body for another three days - depending on how their investigation is going. Many families come to the morgue to claim their dead after they have been buried, in such cases according to Khan, they either take the body or have an honourary burial.

“We take photos of the body before and after the ghusal,” said Khan. “Three days is the limit because of two reasons - there is not enough space and the body starts to rot.” He added that the ghusal takes place on site, in a room right in front of the cold storage area.

At the moment, there are around 80 bodies wrapped in white cloth at the morgue being stored in sub-zero temperatures. The cold storage area is the size of two medium-sized bedrooms with stretchers lined up along the wall. There are bodies everywhere with not enough space to walk.

“There are times we don’t have enough space,” said Khan. “For instance, there was a constant flow of bodies from the Abbas Town blast and May 12 riots. We just didn’t know where to keep the bodies.” He added that it was in situations like that where he felt there wasn’t enough space to keep the city’s dead.

According to Khan, he has seen some gruesome scenes but after years of being on the job he’s used to it. He said that on his first day at work, all he wanted to do was run away. Now, he spends most of his nights at the office. He goes through files, letters, people, to make sure that everything is in order.

“Yes, we need more space to keep the bodies so families can come and identify their loved ones,” he said. “But till we do, we just have to make the best of what we have.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.


SA | 9 years ago | Reply

And such is the state of affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan..everything is bleak; is there a brave honest muslim soul to pull us out of this morass? not the present lot of that I can give you a guarantee.

The PAT chief is correct in insisting that the entire present system is rotten and must be dismantled, he says you can continue to change a thousand faces in the prime ministers house or the parliaments the same Rotten people will come back. its time for a change, its a serious situation and extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures we all must play our part practically if we are to survive as a notion.

Shabir | 9 years ago | Reply

I wish there is peace everywhere in our country and we don't need such rooms.

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