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DEATH OF THE INVISIBLE

When an unidentified body is found on the streets of Delhi, a post-mortem is supposed to be conducted but police say family members become agitated if this is done. A look at this curious situation

On May 14, a brutal killing was discovered in the DTC park near Shanti Van area of New Delhi. What was different about this case? In two days, a PIL was lodged in the High Court.
In the first hearing of the case, the bench comprising of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar took cognisance of a news report which said that the police were yet to carry out a post-mortem of the unidentified woman.
The police’s reasoning? A September 2010 standing order of the Commissioner of Police which said that post-mortem of unidentified bodies can be conducted only after 72 hours. SHO of Daryaganj police station Mangesh, under whose jurisdiction the case lies, said that this was a practice because family members when (if) located would become agitated if the body was not in the state it was found. However, in this case, all body fluids and swabs were taken and preserved along with the femur bone and three molar teeth of the victim.
The argument in the PIL by Sunil Kumar Aledia was that crucial evidence would be lost in such a wait, especially with the state of government mortuaries. Furthermore, what he was looking at, he told the Patriot, was the larger picture — to get all homeless included in the data base so they get Aadhar, voter ID card, and avail benefits that the government provides.
DCP Daryaganj Mandeep Randhawa reiterated this point and pointed out that working on cases such as these is even harder in the absence of an ID card, which 80% of the homeless do not have.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The woman, as quoted by the police was a vagabond who had no one looking for her, so no FIR was lodged. She didn’t have anything on her that could identify her, and her face was so badly smashed that many refused to even look at the photo of the body.
Delhi has some two lakh homeless people who, without identification, could be wiped out without a trace. If they did have an identity, as SHO Mangesh puts it, it would solve 50% of the case. But without a name “you don’t have a direction”.
In this case, the name of the girl was discovered on May 27, 13 days after her body was found in a brutal state. It happened like this:

Brutal end: (Left) Soni’s head was smashed unrecognisably. She was one of the thousands living on the streets of the capital

NAME OF THE NAMELESS
The first lead the police team identified was the tattoo on the girl’s right arm which had two names. One was Soni written in Hindi, and the other was Rahul Kumar, written in English.
After questioning 4,500 people in a 5-km radius, one beggar woman in Fawara chowk of Chandni Chowk ultimately identified the bludgeoned girl in the photograph as Soni — the name on her arm and the other inscription, the name of her boyfriend who worked in marriage halls.
They had finally given a name to the girl on May 27, and knew who the prime suspect was. By the night of May 29 they had located Rahul at Fawara Chowk. And on May 30, he was charged with Soni’s murder after he confessed to having killed her with his accomplice and friend Kalia.
In this case, luckily, the girl had her name inscribed on her arm. But when they don’t, what lead is there? An official who has worked in such cases said that with the court taking cognisance, the pressure was added. But in most cases of the homeless, no one cares. “No one asks about the poor, but if she was someone who lived in Greater Kailash or some VIP area,” he says sarcastically, this would have been a task with a lot of backing.
For Soni, there were six police personnel on the case. They found that Rahul had killed Soni for allegedly stealing R10,000 from him, which he had collected to go to his home state of Bihar. But he was not alone, he was prodded along by Kalia, who was also the man who picked up the huge slab of brick to smash Soni’s head with.
Bunty alias Kalia alias Mukesh Paswan, a rickshaw puller and ragpicker, and Rahul had intended to kill the girl on May 11, after watching the film Niruva Mahbharat (a film in Bihari) at Moti cinema in Chandni Chowk. But when she decided against going with them, after the movie, the plan was foiled.
Soni used to work as a ragpicker and daily wager. After the body was identified, people in the area said she had been living on the streets for the past 9-10 years. On the night of May 13, the three went to the park where they consumed drinks. What worked in favour of the two contemplating murder was the thunderstorm that night. It destroyed most of the CCTV footage around the area, because of faulty wiring or affected the focus of the footage, according to the SHO.
The guard at the park, who was the first to be questioned, said that as the park was bifurcated into several parts, he could not keep his eye on the whole area.

CURRENT SHORTCOMINGS
Currently, the Delhi government’s project to install 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras is stuck in a power tussle with the LG. The plan was hailed as an ambitious one to make the streets safer for Delhi’s people, especially women. But alas, the planned rollout for March never happened, and now in June, even the plan to put CCTV on buses has been struck down by Union Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi as a “waste of public money”.
In the case of Aadhar coming to help for identifying the dead, SHO Mangesh says that when they approached the authority, UIDAI with the girl’s fingerprint, they refused to divulge any information. They then approached the district judge, but till now haven’t heard anything. They believe that law enforcement should be given the rights to obtain data of the Aadhar through an appeal in the court.
At the moment, even if the girl had an identity, they wouldn’t be able to access it via Aadhar.
Aledia, founder member of Centre For Holistic Development (CHD), is not very hopeful for change in the system any time soon as “in the government’s eye these homeless people don’t exist.” He alleges that two to three unidentified bodies of women are found every month. He says that since working on Delhi’s streets for years now, he knows that post-mortem is not conducted on many unidentified bodies, which would have ensured a database on the causes, like hunger and
disease.
“There has to be a survey on how they live. But even if they die in the shelter they don’t have a name,” the apathy towards the homeless, Aledia says, does not change.
According to figures provided by the Delhi Police HQ, in 2017, 27 bodies remained unidentified, and up to May 15 this year there were 18 unidentified bodies.