People say you can measure how civilised a country is by the way it treats its dead. If you go by that yardstick, you might find this place in the capital not civilised at all.
At the mortuary of Sir Salimullah Medical College, bodies are left on the floor for hours -- in some cases for days -- before autopsy and burial as the lone cadaver freezer there has been out of order for more than two years.
The freezer, which can store 12 bodies, has not been replaced due to fund crisis.
Often, flies buzz across the room and land on the bodies as they slowly decompose. Sometimes, huge ice chunks are placed on and around the bodies to delay the decomposition but that hardly helps.
“It looks like their sufferings has not ended even after death,” said Mohammad Shahid, a grieving father whose 17-year-old daughter -- Shanta -- allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling fan of her house at Kamrangirchar recently.
He went to the morgue, filled with the stench of the bodies, in the evening after police took the body there for autopsy.
By that time, the forensic experts, who perform the autopsy, had already left. So, the autopsy had to be done the next day.
Without “emergencies”, the autopsies are performed between 8:30am and 2:30pm every day.
Hours after the body was taken to the morgue, flies started to land on it. Pointing to them, a morgue staff advised Shahid, a day labourer, to bring some ice.
Shahid learnt that the required ice would cost him some Tk 1,500 which was quite difficult for him to afford. So, he went to a local fish market to buy some ice which is actually meant for storing fish.
However, buying that was not an easy job.
“I had to beg for the ice. It took me more than an hour to convince the fish traders there,” he said, adding that it cost him Tk 700.
By the time Shahid returned with the ice, it was almost midnight and the body was apparently in a bad shape.
A forensic expert, wishing not to be named, said preserving bodies with ice chunks is not the right way. Sometimes, it ruins forensic evidence.
Applying ice can cause new bruises obliterating the older ones on the body. They can also change the shape of different parts of the body, he said.
Again, the morgue staff are not happy with the use of ice because it makes the floor wet and it becomes disgusting when it melts. “It attracts flies and mosquitoes.”
A staff, requesting anonymity, said on an average, some 500 autopsies are done at the morgue every year and all the bodies were kept there for at least a couple of hours before and after the autopsies.
The staff said the corpses are brought to the morgue by the police stations at Dohar, Nawabganj, Keraniganj, Kadamtoli, Shyampur, Demra, Jatrabari, Wari, Gendaria, Sutrapur, Kotwali, Bangshal, Chawkbazar, Lalbagh, and Kamrangirchar.
“Many of the bodies, especially the ones found in the river, are brought here in a decomposed state. Sometimes police bring the bodies at night even if they find them in the morning to avoid the daytime perennial traffic jam in old Dhaka,” the staff added.
Requesting anonymity, a teacher at the Sir Salimullah Medical College said they also face trouble while teaching students due to the poor condition of the bodies.
Vice-principal of the college Prof AZM Shakhawat Hossain said there was another cadaver freezer at the Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital. However, the machine, which can store five bodies at a time, also went out of order over two years ago.
He said the college and hospital authorities wrote to the Directorate General of Health Services on several occasions about the situation but to no avail.
Contacted, Prof Abul Kalam Azad, who became the director general of the DGHS recently, said it would probably take months to buy the new freezers due to fund crisis.
Asked, he said he could not explain why prompt actions had not been taken earlier as he was new to the post.