On the evening of November 28, 65-year-old Gopalan of the Paniya tribe was making his way back to his home in Wayanad’s Palnada, after dividing the wages that he and some other labourers earned for plucking areca nuts that day. However, on the way, he was attacked by a swarm of bees, and was taken to the Sulthan Bathery Taluk Government Hospital for his injuries. He died at the hospital at 9 am the following day. Now, Gopalan’s relatives allege that his body has started to decay after a delay in the post-mortem at the hospital.
According to his relatives, Gopalan’s body remained at the hospital for two days after his death. During this time, his body started to decay and a foul smell emanated from it, they said. On Monday afternoon, the relatives were told to shift his body to the Kozhikode Medical College, located two-and-a-half hours away from Wayanad. The post-mortem was conducted there on Tuesday morning.
“We were told this only by Monday afternoon. If the hospital authorities had told us this at least on Monday morning the post mortem could have been done by yesterday evening, avoiding the delay of one more day,” Gopalan’s daughter Suseela told TNM. “At the Bathery hospital we were told that there was no surgeon, and some of the doctors were on leave for 11 days. The post-mortem had to be done as directed by the doctor at WIMS (in Wayanad). While we were shifting the body to Kozhikode on Monday, there was foul smell and the stomach had begun decaying,” Babu, a relative of Gopalan, told TNM.
Since Palnada does not have a crematorium, Gopalan’s family had to take his body to his wife Karinki’s village of Kurichy. “This would again cause delay in cremation. Also, after the floods we don’t have a flat spot for cremation. Why he was kept two days at the Bathery hospital? It was my sister’s son who took him to hospital with other relatives. They weren’t getting any proper information from the hospital authorities,” Suseela said.
Wayanad District Medical Officer (DMO) Dr Renuka told media that the delay in the post-mortem was due to a delay in completing some formalities.
However, according to Babu, it was the shortage of doctors that caused the delay. “At the Bathery hospital, we were told that doctors are on leave for 11 days, and for 20 days at Manathavady (the district hospital in Wayanad). There were not even sufficient doctors at Kozhikode Medical College. We reached the medical college after 4 on Monday and we were told that the post-mortem would be done only on Tuesday morning only. Promoters are not visiting our colonies these days. We didn’t know whom to tell this,” Babu said.
Promoters are appointed by the Scheduled Tribes Development Department as facilitators to assist tribal people. “This is a general negligence towards tribal people, this instance is also a testimony of that,” explained Saji, a local resident of Palnada.
As a protest against the mistreatment, Gopalan’s relatives did not go to retrieve his body from the Kozhikode Medical College; instead, a police official of the Kenichira police station had to retrieve it. Reportedly, the post of forensic surgeon does not exist at the Bathery hospital, and the person in charge of post-mortems is an assistant surgeon on temporary assignment.