Body number 13, announced a security official stationed outside the mortuary of Mumbai’s KEM Hospital. A man and woman ran towards the facility, accompanied by relatives. Body number 13 was their 25-year-old daughter Hiloni Dedhia. They were finally being called in to complete the formalities to take home the body of their only daughter. Her father, Nilesh Dedhia, said, “She was a bright girl.”
A chartered accountant at Axis Bank, Dedhia was one of the 22 Mumbaikars who died in a stampede on Friday morning as they negotiated their way across a hypercongested foot overbridge between Elphinstone Road railway station on the Western line and the nearby Parel station on the Central line in Mumbai’s steel-and-glass midtown office district.
An hour before Dedhia’s body was identified, her aunt, Chetna, had been scurrying through the corridors of the municipal hospital showing doctors her photograph. “We had found her purse and mobile but we could not find her,” said Chetna. “Now we have found her but it is all over.”
In the photograph, Dedhia is smiling in a green sari. Shortly after, the mortuary attendant took a photograph of her dead bruised face with the number 13 written in red on her forehead. To ease the process of identification, the forensics department had marked all 22 bodies. Doctors suspect that Dedhia’s face had been stepped on several times. Said her father, “Initially, I could not identify her as her face was black because of all the bruises.”
The casualty wing of KEM Hospital was working at a frenetic pace. By 11.30 am, the hospital had received 15 dead bodies from the station. “There was nothing we could do,” said a doctor. “By afternoon, we had 22 bodies. Two of them were gasping when they came to the hospital, but they died in some time.”
Dr Avinash Supe, dean of KEM Hospital, said that only two of the 39 injured patients are in the intensive care unit. “Everyone else is stable and undergoing treatment,” he said. “Most of them have suffered rib fractures, and are complaining of difficulty in breathing.”
Dr Rajesh Dere from the forensics department said that most people who died had suffered trauma on the chest.
The victims included 11-year-old Rohit Parab, who had skipped school to help his father, a flower vendor. “Rohit and his elder brother, Aakash were coming to the shop to help me because of Dusshera,” said his father, Ankush, as he slapped his face in grief. The elder brother, Aakash, survived the injuries and is recuperating.
Bridge to death
Best friends Sumalata Shetty, 45, and Sujata Alva, 45, who lived in the eastern Mumbai suburb Kanjurmarg, rarely took in the train. But on Friday, the two decided to visit the flower market at Elphinstone. They wanted to make garlands for the puja at their homes. Both Shetty and Alva were brought dead to the hospital. “We think that when they were returning from the market, they got stuck on the bridge,” said Dayanand Shetty, a family friend of Sumalata.
Shetty’s only daughter Nidhi, a college student, was inconsolable. “They were prominent members of the Bunt community and were known for playing women’s kabadi,” said Jyothi Shetty, her relative.
Several people waiting outside the mortuary to claim the bodies of the relatives were dressed in ethnic wear. The hospital was decorated with garlands and lights to celebrate the ninth day of Navratri. Sumalata Shetty “was so excited about the festival and she is not alive to celebrate it now”, said her relative Jyothi Shetty. “Why did God do this?”
Commuters who regularly use the Elphinstone and Parel stations said that the foot overbridge is always crowded and there have been incidents in the past when people have fallen on the staircase. On Friday morning, said a commuter named Pramod Bagwe, it suddenly started raining and people at the foot of the bridge did not get out onto the road because they did not want to get wet. “But people on the top of the bridge started pushing and there was a separate line of people who were trying to climb the bridge and catch a train,” he said.
Bagwe continued: “All of a sudden, people started collapsing on each other. I was also buried under some people. As soon as I could get up, I started looking for my wife, Pradnya, who was also buried under people. I pulled her out. She was dizzy.”
Pramod and Pradnya Bagwe were rescued by a woman living in the nearby railway colony, who called for an ambulance that ferried them to the hospital.
Aparna Sawant, 30, recalled how commuters trampelled over her. “My chest was injured and I was unable to breathe,” she said. “I was screaming for help but no one came forward. I saw the police but they just stood there.”
When Sawant regained consciousness, she was sitting amidst several dead bodies. “I was sitting and everyone around me was lying on the floor.”
Bagwe said that he had often warned the government railway police stationed at Elphinstone Road station about the possibility of a disaster. “If the bridge was bigger, people would have not died,” he said.
As the news of the incident spread, a steady stream of cars with red beacons started arriving at KEM Hospital. The security at the hospital was seen preventing relatives of the injured and the dead from entering the hospital. Richard Fernandes was standing alone outside the mortuary while his relatives fought with the security to let them in. “I could not enter the hospital first because some VIP’s car had come and he was seeing the patients,” said Fernandes whose wife, Teresa, died in the tragedy.
Teresa Fernandes had delivered a child eight months ago. “Who will care for my infant?” asked Fernandes with tear-filled eyes. “I always thought that I was a lucky person, but today life proved me wrong.”
Among the dignitaries who visited the hospital was Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. Their visits meant that doctors who should have been treating patients were instead briefing the politicians.
A friend of Fernandes was outraged. He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should first fix the problems of the railways before even considering the expensive bullet train project announced earlier this month.