Kelwa beach burials: The post-mortem that never happened

Oct 05, 2017, 19:14 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Family was told their son's body washed up at Kelwa, but it turns out cops botched post-mortem and the entire probe

Three years after Dahisar youth Nasim Shaikh (23) went missing, his family is slowly realising how badly the police have bungled the entire investigation.

(From left) Nasim Shaikh's father Rafique Shaikh, sister Anusuya Gaud and deputy sarpanch Rajendra Patil search for the youth's remains at the Kelwa beach, Edwan. Pics/Shadab Khan
(From left) Nasim Shaikh's father Rafique Shaikh, sister Anusuya Gaud and deputy sarpanch Rajendra Patil search for the youth's remains at the Kelwa beach, Edwan. Pics/Shadab Khan

For years, the Shaikhs believed what the police told them – that Nasim's body had washed ashore at Mathane beach in Kelwa just days after his disappearance, and that they even performed a post-mortem on the body. Now, it turns out there was never a post-mortem, and the family is not sure how much of the police's story was a lie.

Also read - Kelwa Beach Burials: Cops find skull fragment, autopsy reports 'questionable'

Dr S S Dhengle signed as the doctor performing the autopsy and also signed as the supervising officer (right) for the same procedure
Dr S S Dhengle signed as the doctor performing the autopsy and also signed as the supervising officer (right) for the same procedure

The Kelwa police and local health officials claim that they performed autopsies on two unidentified bodies found at Mathane beach on July 11, 2014. One of the bodies is believed to be that of Nasim, as the description of his clothes matches those found on the deceased (T-shirt and trousers). However, as mid-day had reported on September 24, DNA testing proved inconclusive twice.

Also read - Kelwa beach burials: Cops unable to find buried remains

These DNA samples were said to be removed during post-mortem, but mid-day's investigation of the documents reveals several irregularities in these documents. This reporter also spoke to an eyewitness - the former village sarpanch - who clearly states that no post-mortem was performed on the bodies. Instead, the bodies were buried at the beach the same day.

Also read: Is man buried in hurry at Kelwa beach missing Dahisar youth?

Post-mortem of the autopsy

  • The PM report states that three samples were taken from the body for DNA analysis - a piece of the left femur, an incisor tooth and hair from the scalp. But the lab made no mention of the hair.
  • Neither of the PM reports mentions an Accidental Death Report (ADR) number for reference. On the other hand, the laboratory reports (both copies with mid-day) cite the ADR no 10/2014. Because of this discrepancy, it can no longer be proved that the samples are from the same case.
  • According to the paperwork, the PM was conducted by Dr S S Dhengle, Medical Officer at Public health center, Edwan, Palghar district. Dr Dhengle has a BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery) degree, which does not qualify her to carry out PMs.
  • Oddly, Dr Dhengle not only signed as the doctor performing the autopsy, but also signed as the supervising officer for the same procedure - effectively, she was supervising her own work.
  • The two PM reports are identical, down to the time of the procedure. Both PM reports state that the procedure began at 4.45 pm and ended at 5.15 pm, and both were performed by Dr Dhengle. It is humanly impossible to conduct two autopsies simultaneously.
  • The final cause of death was given as 'death due to cardio-respiratory failure due to asphyxia due to drowning'. There was no mention of internal and external injuries, but Nasim's family saw remember the Kelwa police mentioning that the face and eyeballs had been eaten by fish.

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Expert speak

Dr Milind Ranadive, medical officer, Saphale primary health centre
"If the concerned doctor had any doubt or wanted any assistance she could have contacted us, or should have kept the cause of death pending, which we usually do in cases where the cause is not evident during autopsy. Also at times, we even send doubtful cases to department of forensic medicine at JJ Hospital in Mumbai."

No closure for family
"It has been three years that we are running from one place to another, hoping to get justice. If the police cannot establish through DNA that the unidentified body is indeed Nasim's, then they should trace my missing son," said Nasim's father Rafiq Shaikh. The distraught family was in for another nasty surprise on Monday, when they went to the burial spot to exhume the body, only to find most of the remains missing. The Kelwa police picked up a few bone fragments but the family is not sure the bones are human. Nasim's sister, Anusuya said, "I can easily identify my brother's clothes, but I'm not sure about his bones."

'How much can I do on my own?'
mid-day tracked down Dr Sushma Dhengle, who was second assistant medical officer at the primary health centre in Edwan, and is currently posted in Malvade, Vikramgad Tehsil. Asked how she prepared the identical reports and signed as the supervising officer, she said, "I will have to see the papers; I do not remember." On being informed that an eyewitness denied that any autopsy was performed, she replied: "I have so much work, how much can I do alone? The police and my superiors asked me to do it." She added, "I had told the police and my superiors that I should not be called for male post-mortems. But they ignored my request and insisted that I go there."

Police speak
Assistant Police Inspector Siddhawa Jaybhaye, in-charge of Kelwa police station, said, "We are not at fault, we are not technically sound with forensics and, therefore, approached the doctor." She added, "If the doctor was not qualified or did not desire to conduct the post-mortem, she should have expressed the same in writing. But in this case, she has already given the cause of death in the post-mortem report and we have gone by the same."The officer further claimed that they had collected samples from both bodies, but said she did not know who had done it, as she had taken charge just three months ago.

Crumbling primary health centre
The Mathane village has no post-mortem centre, and most of autopsies are referred to other centres. Even the living barely have access to health facilities; the primary health centre is fit for only minor complaints, such as cold, fever or snakebites. Serious cases are sent to Sefala or Palghar. Construction of a new centre in underway, so currently even pregnancy cases are not accepted.

Eyewitness says there was no autopsy
Arvind Patil, 71, the former sarpanch of Mathane village, remembers the day the bodies washed ashore. By the time the police arrived with a woman doctor from Edwan, the body had started emitting an unbearable stench. The police and the doctor waited for the sweeper (body cutter) to arrive so they could start a spot post-mortem, but the worker never showed up.

"The police wanted to leave the body at the shore until the next morning. But the bodies would have been eaten by strays. Moreover, it would have been disrespectful," said Arvind. Arvind offered to assist the doctor to collect DNA samples. "Out of the two male bodies, one was in clothes (T-shirt and trousers), and the other one had only undergarments. It was decided that the DNA will be taken from DNA the clothed body. I used a sickle and cut a small portion of the thigh bone and pulled out one of the front teeth," he added.

"Forget the doctor, even the police were not ready to touch the decomposed bodies, due to the stench. We buried the bodies under sand and stones. A palm tree marks the spot." Patil added that the remains were exhumed twice by the police – once in 2015, and more recently, on Monday.

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