KARACHI: In a major achievement, over 4,500 unclaimed bodies found over the years were handed over to the families of the deceased persons thanks to Shanakht, the biometric scanning project that helped in identification of such bodies and tracing of their families.
The project also helped more than 500 unconscious patients, who landed in city hospitals after meeting different accidents, to get them reunited with their loved ones.
The project was successfully launched by the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) with the assistance of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) in 2015. Prior to Shanakht, over 200,000 corpses had been buried in the Mowachh Goth graveyard of the Edhi Foundation as there was no system to identify the victims or trace their heirs.
Recently, the project had achieved a milestone of identifying its 5,000th case.
An official said the biometric scanning technology helped identifying the more than 4,500 unclaimed bodies which were handed over to their families for burial.
Number of unclaimed bodies being buried in Edhi’s Mowach Goth graveyard has significantally reduced due to Shanakht
The system, which was launched more than seven years ago, has emerged as a major success to solve the city’s one of the crucial issues regarding identification of unclaimed bodies and tracing their families since hundreds of such bodies were buried by the Edhi Foundation every year at its Mowachh Goth graveyard.
“We launched the project in late 2015,” said CPLC’s Amir Hassan, the man behind the Shanakht project. “The results are really encouraging. The exercise that took so much time and efforts of different individuals and institutions are finally yielding results.”
He said: “Recently, we achieved the milestone of identification of 5,000th case. Since late 2015, we have identified 4,549 unclaimed bodies at different morgues. We also found identified 500 unconscious patients in emergencies of different hospitals. They were brought there in different conditions and weren’t able to share their personal details or family connections. So this project is helping in multiple ways.”
While explaining the mechanism of the project, he said when volunteers of different charities find an unclaimed body they would take its thumb impressions with the assistance of CPLC staff at their facilities and send them to Nadra along with all relevant details and findings of police and a medico-legal report. Nadra takes a day or two to respond to the CPLC with all particulars about heirs of the victim.
Before Shanakht was put in place, there was no other system to identify such bodies and the
Edhi Foundation used to bury them after keeping them for three days for any relative to contact and identify at its morgue in Sohrab Goth.
They would take photographs of the body for their record so that a relative who might turn up afterwards could identify their loved ones after leafing through the picture album of the buried persons. The number of the bodies identified with the help of photographs has, however, remained very negligible, given the lack of a technology-based mechanism.
But now, the number of bodies being buried at the Mowach Goth graveyard of the Edhi Foundation proves the effectiveness of Shanakht.
“The number of [unclaimed] bodies buried has declined to a large extent,” said an Edhi official.
“If we go through the data of only five years before the launch of the CPLC project, it shows that we buried total 1,030 unidentified bodies in 2010; 1,791 in 2011; 1,517 in 2012; 1,650 in 2013 and 1,657 unidentified corpses in 2014. After 2015, the number is gradually on a decline,” he said.
Launched in 1984-85 initially over a 10-acre piece of land, the foundation by 2015 had buried over 200,000 unclaimed corpses in the Mowachh Goth graveyard.
After initial success in tracing families of the unidentified bodies in the city, the CPLC has expanded its project in finding relatives and loved ones of those unidentified people who have been admitted to hospitals in an unconscious condition, injured or critically ill.
Mr Hassan of the CPLC said that in August 2018 the CPLC had set up a facility desk at three major public hospitals of the city — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), Civil Hospital Karachi and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital — to identify and trace the family of unidentified patients through biometric verification.
“Since then we have identified and traced families of some more than 500 patients who were brought unconscious to hospitals mostly after accidents of different nature,” he said.
“In most cases, these patients suffer a memory loss or remain unconscious. We followed the same procedure and technology which we do for the unclaimed bodies and make efforts to reach their families. The results are promising and we hope it will become more effective with the passage of time,” he said.
Since the system is in place for over seven years, it is seen as a blessing by many who have experienced exhausting search for their missing loved ones without knowing their fate.
Shah Wilayat from Waziristan recalled how he and his family were shocked to learn the tragic end of life of his younger brother in Karachi in a road accident but at the same time found them among the fortunate few who are able to achieve a sense of closure regarding the disappearance and death of their family members.
“My younger brother met a deadly road accident in Korangi Industrial Area in 2017,” he said. “We back home in Waziristan were worried about him as his phone was switched off. He remained untraceable for three days. The Edhi [Foundation] after finding his body unclaimed, took it to its morgue. Then they took his thumb impressions, sent the information to Nadra and after a day or two, they gave us details of our family to CPLC guys.”
“The CPLC approached the political agent in South Waziristan, telling him about our brother’s tragic death and sharing our [the victim’s family] details. The agent finally traced and found us and informed. The next day we left for Karachi. Brought his body and buried him in our ancestral village,” he added.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023