A room with three beds covered in green plastic sheets, and a table; an adjacent room with a bathing table and a small waiting hall. This is the makeshift autopsy centre put together at Pothukal village in Malappuram, situated just a few km away from the Kavalappara area that witnessed a massive landslide last Thursday, killing at least 58 people. The makeshift autopsy centre, however, has not been created at a hospital or primary health centre (PHC), but at a small mosque in the town.
From the time the rescue mission started on Friday, 25 bodies have been recovered from the site of the landslide. But travelling to the nearest Medical College in Manjeri takes more than two hours, and the PHC in the area lacks space to conduct autopsies. When the district administration was in a bind over the next course of action, the people who run this masjid offered their space for the same – and decided to assist in whatever way possible, too.
Dr PS Sanjay, Assistant Professor at the Manjeri Medical College tells TNM that his team has been working out of the masjid for the last four days. The prayer hall of the masjid has been converted into the main autopsy room with three beds. The bed used by the Masjid to cleanse the bodies of the dead (as per Islamic traditions) has been placed in the room adjacent to the praying hall where worshippers normally wash their hands and legs.
“The bodies are first brought to this ante-room. The table used by the masjid is a good one with draining facilities. The dead bodies we receive from the site are caked in mud and stones. It becomes difficult for the families to identify them,” says Dr Sanjay.
Trauma care volunteers wash the bodies in this ante-room and then they are taken to the prayer hall with the autopsy beds. Here, the bodies are displayed for an identification process and then the autopsy is done.
A body brought to the masjid on Tuesday was so decomposed that it was tough to identify their gender. The hip was crushed and doctors could make out the body was of a woman only because of the undergarments. After the body was washed, relatives identified the woman.
“However, not all bodies are being identified. A man’s body was brought in yesterday and a family believed it is their relative. But after we washed the body, we found that it was of a man who sported a beard. This family was looking for a man without a beard. Therefore, the unidentified body has been moved to Nilambur General Hospital,” he says.
Though the search teams were initially able to function only till 6 pm, the mission has been progressing into the night in the last two days. On Wednesday, a body was brought to the makeshift facility in the night. For Dr Sanjay and his team and for the families who are desperately looking for closure, the masjid’s offer to use their space has come as a big solace.
A picture of the masjid