Two Indian families have been forced to relive the trauma of losing their loved ones to Covid-19 after they discovered their bodies had not been cremated but were rotting in a hospital mortuary for a year-and-a-half.
Muniraju, 67, and Durga Sumithra, 40, succumbed to the coronavirus in July 2020 — at the peak of India's devastating first wave of infections — while undergoing treatment at a government-run hospital in Bangalore city in southern Karnataka state.
As the number of cases in India surged and a deluge of Covid-infected patients overwhelmed the country's healthcare system, municipal corporations and hospitals took over the cremation of victims.
Citing a risk of infection, the authorities did not hand over the bodies of Muniraju and Sumithra to their families, who were informed that the bodies had been cremated by hospital and municipal staff.
The families received a shock this week when police informed them that a housekeeping staff found the decomposed bodies while cleaning the hospital’s old mortuary.
“We got a call from the police and were told that my father-in-law’s body was in the mortuary. It was shocking because we were told that his body was cremated and we had been even given a death certificate by the hospital,” said Sathish Kumar, 48, Muniraju’s son-in-law.
“We were shattered by his death last year but finding his body in a rotten state is beyond painful,” Mr Kumar told The National.
For Sumithra’s elder sister Sujhata, the development has been devastating.
Sujhata said her sister was sick for days and, after a frantic search, found a hospital bed on June 28. She died four days later.
Sumithra had lost her husband to liver failure in 2019 and was living with her two teenage daughters who moved in with Sujhata when she went into hospital.
“I couldn’t even see her body last year and now we have found her rotten body. She ... was severely ill but we couldn’t get a bed easily,” said Sujhata, 50.
“They told us they can’t give us her body because it can infect us and now after 16 months, we found her rotten body. Her two daughters are in disbelief,” she told The National.
The families have voiced their dismay over the negligence but are yet to file an official complaint, police said.
“We have launched an investigation into the case. A postmortem and other legal formalities were completed and the bodies were handed over to the families for cremation," said Prashant, a police officer at Rajajinagar Police Station, Bangalore.
"The families are yet to file an official complaint with us,” he told The National.