Odisha train tragedy: Determined relatives, friends fight tears, desperation to find their near ones

Several dozen victims of the 2 June triple-train tragedy in Balasore are yet to be identified, many bodies are badly mutilated.

ByAshutosh Mishra

Published Jun 05, 2023 | 11:30 PM Updated Jun 05, 2023 | 11:30 PM

Manvel Marandi (looking at the camera) identified the body of his cousin Bharat Murmu at the Amri Hospital in Bhubaneswar, but the hospital authorities are refusing to hand the body over to him as he is not directly related to the deceased

Standing in a corner of the overcrowded hall near the mortuary of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Bhubaneswar, Gopal and Nimai Mana scanned the giant screen displaying the visuals of those killed in the 2 June train tragedy at Bahanaga with mixed feelings of hope and despair.

Teary-eyed and with bated breath, they focused hard on the screen each time the visual of a mutilated body appeared. But the wait proved futile as they failed to get any news of their brother Sumir Mana (33), who is still on the list of those missing in the tragedy.

Odisha train accident

Gopal Manna with aadhar card of missing brother Sumir. (Ashutosh Mishra)

Sumir, along with his elder brother Nimai, worked in the pantry car of the ill-fated Shalimar-Coromandel Express that got derailed after hitting a stationary goods train at Bahanaga, around 40 kms from Balasore.

In a chain reaction, the derailed bogies of the Coromandel Express were then hit by the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express running on the parallel track, resulting in two of its bogies, too, getting derailed.

“Both of us worked in the pantry car of Coromandel Express. Sumir is a few years younger than me. Gopal is the youngest in the family. There was an explosion-like sound and the entire train shook when it hit the goods train at Bahanaga,” Nimai, who hails from Kulberia under the Bhagwanpur police station in West Bengal’s Medinapur district, told South First.

Related: Odisha grapples with the challenge of identifying the dead

Separated at work

“I was serving people in one of the AC compartments at the time but Sumir had gone to one of the general bogies. I tried to contact him using my mobile phone but there was no response. Ever since we have been looking for him,” he added.

Gopal said while they have been running from pillar to post trying to locate their brother, their old mother is inconsolable back in the village.

Odisha train accident

Musafir Sahani who came to AIIMS looking for his son Anil. (Ashutosh Mishra)

“She keeps calling us now and then in the hope that we will give her some news about her son. We are full of apprehension. Soon after we got the news of the accident we rushed to Balasore in a taxi. We searched for him everywhere including the hospitals in Balasore, Cuttack, and Bhubaneswar,” Gopal said.

“But there is no trace of him so far,” he added in despair.

Sixty-five-year-old Musafir Sahani from Bihar, who was making rounds of the mortuary at AIIMS, in the hope of finding his son, Anil Kumar, looked equally devastated.

“My son was going to Vijayawada where he worked as a labourer in a rice mill. He was going back to his work after three months in our village near Motihari,” he said.

“We learnt about the accident from the TV and immediately set out for Bhubaneswar. Our relatives, who keep track of news, said that the bodies had been shifted here and even the injured are being treated in the hospitals of the city. Though I have no news of my son so far I have not given up hope,” said the old man who, in all likelihood, would be spending the night on the hospital campus.

Related: Change in electronic interlocking system led to accident; toll 275

Over 170 bodies in morgues

The fact is there is hardly any assistance available for people like Sahani in the hospitals of Bhubaneswar where more than 170 bodies are lying in the morgues.

While the lucky ones received some assistance from railway officials, in most cases they have been struggling to reach the morgues or gather information from the hospital authorities. Uneducated villagers like Sahani have been facing all kinds of problems.

Odisha train accident

Mohammad Harun, part of the Bhagalpur group looking for bodies of victims at AIIMS Bhubaneswar. (Ashutosh Mishra)

“We have also been working round the clock. We are doing our best — but perhaps that is not enough,” said an AIIMS official who did not wish to be identified.

Relatives of the victims have also been facing other kinds of problems. In some cases, hospital authorities refused to hand over the bodies to distant relatives citing procedural issues.

One such case was that of Bharat Murmu (55), a daily wager from Jafra village near Bhagalpur in Bihar. Bharat, who worked on a construction site in Chennai, was on the ill-fated Coromandel Express.

His cousin Manvel Marandi identified his body at the AMRI Hospital in Bhubaneswar, but the hospital authorities refused to hand the body over to him as he is not directly related to the deceased.

“I told them that I have travelled from my village looking for my cousin. No other family member was in a position to come. But they refused to hand over the body,” said Marandi.

However, railway officials accompanying him, assured him that they would make another attempt at convincing the hospital authorities to hand over the body as he was carrying relevant documents.

“I am keeping my fingers crossed,” said Marandi while the railway officials assisting him refused to comment.

Related: How Coromandel sped into loop line and rammed goods train

Brothers in hard times

Searching for the dead

Aravind Soren, friend of Manvel Marandi and part of the group from Bhagalpur which has come looking for the bodies of seven persons missing from their area in the train mishap. (Ashutosh Mishra)

In a rare display of camaraderie, Mohammad Harun and Aravind Soren have accompanied Marandi and some others who have come to Bhubaneswar looking for seven missing people from Kurma, Jafra and Agaia villages near Bhagalpur.

“Like Bharat Murmu, Ravi Murmu, Santlal Murmu, Motilal Tudu, Gangaram Soren, Ramesh Murmu and Rakesh Kisku from our area have gone missing. They all work as construction workers in Chennai. Migration of labour from our area, where agriculture depends entirely on the rains, is a regular feature,” said Harun.

“This time the situation was worse because of a drought in our region. When we got the news of the accident we immediately left for Balasore and from there we came to Bhubaneswar. We are close friends who belong to neighbouring villages. We thought we must accompany the relatives of our missing friends,” he added.

While this group of friends and relatives has been able to identify three bodies — Ravi Murmu, Santlal Murmu and Bharat Murmu — they are still looking for others.

“We will not go back until we find all of them. We know it is a tough task but we will try our best,” said Aravind, determination writ large on his face.

Photo Gallery: The deadly three-train crash in Odisha’s Balasore