Mumbai: Woman wins lone battle to give dignity to the dead

Updated: 29 November, 2018 15:38 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai

Death of her chauffeur spurred Renu Kapoor to force the bureaucracy to allot funds to renovate the dilapidated govt morgue at St George Hospital

Renu Kapoor persuaded the govt to grant Rs 2cr for the mortuary
Renu Kapoor persuaded the govt to grant Rs 2cr for the mortuary

Mumbaikars spend their entire lives jostling for a few inches of space in this crowded city, but many don't get it even in death, if the morgue at the state-run St George Hospital is any indication. With little space and few qualified doctors to perform autopsies, bodies are piled up and left to rot at the decrepit mortuary. But thanks to the efforts of a single citizen, Renu Kapoor from Colaba, the dead will finally have some dignity in Mumbai.

What the state has failed to do in so long, Renu Kapoor, a chartered accountant from Colaba, pulled off in one-and-a-half years. After continuous follow-up, Kapoor persuaded the government to grant over Rs 2 crore for the revamp of the dilapidated morgue at St George hospital. The state-run hospital conducts over 400 post-mortems every month, but is dreadfully equipped for this task.

Bodies are left to rot inside the decrepit morgue, where the cooling system doesn't work and the roof leaks
Bodies are left to rot inside the decrepit morgue, where the cooling system doesn't work and the roof leaks

The morgue is housed in a tiny, run-down shed behind the hospital, next to Dhobi Ghat. There are just two marble platforms where bodies are piled up. This space runs out quickly, and corpses are then laid down on the filthy floor. Thanks to an inefficient cooling system, decay sets into the bodies quickly, releasing putrid fumes in the air. It's even worse in the monsoon, when rain water keeps dripping from the battered roof.

'No one deserves this'
In April 2017, Kapoor's driver was admitted at St George hospital after an accident, but died of septicaemia within 24 hours. When she went to claim his body after post-mortem, Kapoor was shocked by the horrific condition of the morgue, where bodies were piled up in racks. Following this incident, she decided to take the initiative to revamp the morgue.

"All living beings deserve dignity in death. My driver was a hard-working man, with two daughters, who didn't deserve such a fate after his death. When I spoke to the authorities, I was informed that due to the dilapidated condition of the morgue, no doctors agree to conduct post-mortems, so untrained Class IV employees do it instead. I felt helpless, so I started the campaign, #DignityInDeath," Kapoor told mid-day.

With no more space to pile the bodies on the platforms, corpses are often left on the floor
With no more space to pile the bodies on the platforms, corpses are often left on the floor

10 minutes can do it
The CA took the movement to Facebook and, where she received over 38,000 signatures for her petition, which helped to catch the government's attention. After her tireless perseverance, the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER), in a letter to the hospital dated November 11, stated that a fund of Rs 2.089 crore had been approved for the construction of a proper morgue (mid-day has a copy).

"I am thankful to government officials for all the help I received, but the system is extremely slow. It took 15 days just for the application to go from the DMER office to the hospital, even though both offices are in the same building. And I kept hearing the same comment: 'Yeh India hai, yaha sab slow hota hain'," recalled Kapoor, adding that she dealt with the slow pace of work by putting aside 10 minutes every day for follow up.

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Hospital says
Dr Madhukar Gaikwad, superintendent of St George hospital, said, "We have received the fund and the PWC will float a tender. There is a big compound near the Dhobi Ghat where clothes from the hospital are washed. We will use this space to construct the mortuary. It would take 1-3 months to finish it."

Doctor says
A doctor from the government-run hospital said they conduct over 400 autopsies every month, but are not paid for it or provide any experts for the job. "We get the highest number of unidentified bodies from accidents, especially from the railways. These bodies keep piling up. Due to the inefficient cooling system, the bodies decompose, and it becomes unbearable for us to work in such an environment. We don't even have the required equipment to cut the body open. In such a condition, how can we work? So, it is no surprise that untrained workers are made to do it. Doctor supervise the procedure and sign the papers," said the doctor.

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First Published: 29 November, 2018 07:33 IST

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