Missing people: Identifying the dead

Published January 24, 2016
Relatives wait for the token slips at the window of the Edhi morgue to collect 
the bodies of their loved ones. -File photos
Relatives wait for the token slips at the window of the Edhi morgue to collect the bodies of their loved ones. -File photos

Tanwir Ahmad and his family were terribly worried as Tanwir’s brother Moin could not be traced despite a hectic search for about four months. The family who lived in Lyari, Karachi was gradually beginning to accept the loss of their beloved but something kept pinching their hearts; as one of his family members said later, “Had he died in front of us, it would have been easier to accept his death, but the very thought that he may be alive bothered us.”

On Dec 22 last year, Tanwir received a call from the Edhi morgue asking him to come over and identify a dead body. With a heavy heart he rushed to the morgue and was in tears to find the body of his brother, who had died of a gun shot. But then he was also relieved of the pain and agony he and his family had been going through for the past four months.

The morgue had received his body on Dec 17 and with the help of Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), his thumb impression had been forwarded to NADRA; after receiving his details, the CPLC contacted the family members and the body was handed over to the legal heirs after completing the formalities.

We all have heard such stories. Edhi and other welfare organisations are now happy that they don’t have to wait for a week in the hope that somebody may come on his own and identify and claim a dead body lying in their morgue. With a new CPLC-led project in place, it is now possible to trace the family members of the deceased and inform them.


A new CPLC-led project is in place now which to help trace family members of the deceased and to inform them


The CPLC alone, however, could not do the job. Nobody can. It was in collaboration with the morgues manned by local welfare organisations that a project called Shanakht for the identification of unknown dead bodies was launched. Under this project the unidentified dead bodies are being identified through biometric scan technology by utilising the NADRA databank.

A special desk has been established by the CPLC at the Edhi morgue and other morgues for carrying out a great task in collaboration with the officials of the morgue.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court’s two-judge bench, headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja while hearing the application filed by Voice for Baloch Missing Persons chairman Nasrullah Baloch observed “There should be an effective mechanism so that whenever a dead body is found, the relatives of the missing persons should be contacted to identify it.”

Biometric technology is being used to record the thumb impression of every unclaimed body
Biometric technology is being used to record the thumb impression of every unclaimed body

Since there was no mechanism to trace the relatives of the unidentified bodies, these were handed over to the local morgues run by the welfare organisations. Situated between the Balochistan and Sindh border is the Edhi graveyard for unidentified bodies, known as the Moach Goth graveyard. This is the third such graveyard in the area, the previous two having been filled to capacity with 200,000 graves. The nameless tombstones in this graveyard are identified by a morgue number allotted to the deceased.

Identification of unknown dead bodies has always posed a challenge to the police. The usual reasons of non-identification are: non-availability of proper history and severely decomposed body as well as the lack of interest shown by the police to properly work out the case.

In most cases, these are people who have died in a hospital or other facility and their families could not be informed because their identities could not be established. It is left to the charitable organisations like Edhi and Chippa to take care of these unclaimed bodies and arrange for their burial.

These are kept in air-conditioned mortuaries at the Edhi and Chhipa centres for a few days, and the burial rites are rendered, in case any close relative of the deceased could not be traced. Tracing the relatives has definitely been very difficult, but with the implementation of the Multi-Biometric National Identity Card by Nadra there is a possibility to at least make an effort to find the relatives.

The procedure is very simple; as soon as an unclaimed dead body arrives his multiple thumb impression is taken. The impression is then sent to the Nadra through the CPLC software with all relevant medico legal details. The NADRA normally takes 24 hours to dispatch the details.

The project Shanakht was launched about three months back and within such a short span 65 bodies have been identified and handed over to their relatives, who belonged to different parts of the country.

The CPLC chief, Zubair Habib, confirmed that the CPLC has developed a software which supports the identification through biometric scan technology by utilising the Nadra databank. As per newspaper reports, keeping in view the smooth functioning of the project, the CPLC chief also plans to extend the project with the collaboration of Chippa, while a similar desk will be established at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre for unconscious patients at the JPMC.

Karachiites can drive tremendous benefits from this project. When you come to know that a person is missing, call the police to file a missing person report and take measures to conduct your own search. If the person does not return home, you may contact the CPLC for help. This will increase the chances of finding a missing person. One of the most important aspects of the project is that it can help greatly in tracing missing people.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 24th, 2016

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