The head of a baby got separated from its torso during delivery at a primary health centre in Koovathur near Chennai on Wednesday. Doctors said the baby had died in the mother’s womb, The Times of India reported.

An unidentified relative of the woman said that staff nurses at the health care centre ignored her pleas for pain relief medication and went ahead with vaginal delivery. “There were no doctors at the PHC,” the relative said. She added that the nurses should have referred the pregnant woman to a higher specialty centre for a Caesarean delivery. However, officials from the Tamil Nadu health department claimed the delivery was done in an emergency situation.

The woman’s relatives said the nurses removed only the baby’s head from the mother’s womb, leaving the torso inside, The News Minute reported. The woman was then rushed to the Chengalpattu Government Medical College in Kancheepuram for an emergency surgery, where doctors extracted the torso.

“Preliminary investigations are under way,” Tamil Nadu Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Sethil Kumar told the daily. “We are trying to find out the reason behind this [decapitation].”

“Initial reports we received from the health care centre showed it was an intrauterine death,” he told The Times of India. “The baby had to be removed to save the life of a woman. Since the baby weighed just 1.5 kilograms, they decided that vaginal labour would not be a hazard. But during vaginal delivery the head got separated.”

In January, the Rajasthan Police had filed a case against two employees of a government hospital in Jaisalmer’s Ramgarh after a newborn’s body split into two during delivery. The parents alleged that the nurse pulled out the baby with “immense force”, and the hospital then hid the part of the body which had been pulled out.