Thousands of Bodies Pile Up in New Delhi Every Year

Mortuaries, police overwhelmed by number of unidentified, unclaimed dead
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2014 2:10 PM CST
Thousands of Bodies Pile Up in New Delhi Every Year
An Indian laborer sleeps among collected trash in New Delhi, India, on Oct. 17, 2014.   (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Mortuaries are, by nature, a somewhat gruesome venue, but perhaps nowhere more so than in New Delhi, India, where thousands of unclaimed, unknown bodies rack up every year. A New York Times article documents the horrors of the Sabzi Mandi mortuary, where bodies pile "on every available surface, including the blood-smeared floor," and workers bring in their own soap to fend off TB and other disease after handling the bodies. "You'll find them one on top of the other," the mortuary's chief doctor tells the Times. "Where are we supposed to put them?" His question is valid, since local police estimate finding about 3,000 bodies each year with no ID. Many seem to be migrant men who come to New Delhi to work.

The most-cited reason for death of the unknowns is "natural"—even though the average age of death for unidentified men in Delhi is around 42, notes a 2010 Centre for Equity Studies report—with other reasons including "illness/weakness," "due to hunger or thirst," "due to extreme cold or heat," "accident," "tuberculosis," "suicide," or the strange "beggar type." Police and mortuary workers have become so overwhelmed with the sheer number of bodies that they're now simply resigned to dealing with them. The mortuary doctor tells the Times that men on the streets do drugs and have gay sex, making them "useless to society." "They are of worse nature, and it is their karma," he says. "They do not want to help themselves." (New Delhi has also been marred by sexual assault accusations.)

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