The Long Last Journey Home
Bringing back the remains of a person who died abroad involves not only lengthy paperwork but also high monetary cost for the family.
The news of a dear one dying overseas is bound to shock family members but the struggle to see the dead body for the last time shatters the grieving family. The situation, earlier faced quietly by many Indian families, now also comes in the public domain through social media.
It is not uncommon now to see people requesting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter for help in bringing back the mortal remains of relatives from overseas.
A request was made last month to Swaraj by the Hyderabad-based family members of Mohammed Muneeruzamma, who are unable to get back his body due to financial constraints. Muneeruzamma died in Jeddah on July 24, according to the New Indian Express.
But the ministry, however, can only act as a facilitator for transportation of the body, which is released only after the local administration of the concerned country is satisfied with the formalities. The whole procedure involves not only lengthy paperwork but also high monetary cost for the family.
As many as 7,694 bodies of Indians were stranded in foreign countries in 2015, Firstpost reported, citing a parliamentary paper. About 8,000 Indians die every year while working overseas, according to data from the Ministry of External Affairs.
As many as 65 percent of the deaths abroad occur due to heart ailments and road accidents, according to a recent study that profiled Indians dying abroad. The fatalities are mostly recorded in the 40-60 years age group, the study, conducted by the Airport Health Organization (APHO), Mumbai, showed. The deaths were the most frequent during India’s travel seasons in the months of March-April and November-December, and were proportional to the increase in the travelling population, the Times of India cited the report as saying.
All the bodies that arrive at Mumbai airport need to be cleared by APHO, which checks them for traces of any infection that could cause a public health emergency of international concern, the report added.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, “A medical report, death certificate issued from a hospital, a copy of the detailed police report (with an English translation, if the report is written in some other language) in case of accidental or unnatural death, a consent letter from the next of kin of the deceased for local cremation / burial / transportation of mortal remains” are required to complete the repatriation process.”
Also required is a copy of the deceased’s passport and visa, documents such as clearance and arrangements for embalming of the mortal remains and clearance from local immigration/customs department. In most cases, where authorities took months before allowing the mortal remains to be repatriated, the deceased died unnatural deaths, with causes ranging from suicide to accidents. Harsh working conditions and at times, non-payment of salaries by employers led to blue-collar workers running away, or in the worst case scenario, committing suicide.
The MEA agrees that while there is no undue delay in cases of natural deaths, the time taken to transport the mortal remains to India is longer in the case of unnatural deaths because of different local investigative procedures in different countries.
Besides procedural delays, the families back home often have to make arrangements for meeting the financial requirements of bringing back the body.
In the recent case of Sharath Koppu, the Indian student who died in a shootout at Kansas in the United States, the family had to reportedly spend nearly Rs 20 lakh to bring his body home.
In the case of drowning victim Hemin Limbachiya too, his family and newly-wedded wife had to arrange around $20,000 quickly to take his body to India. Limbachiya, a 26-year-old native of Vadodara, drowned at Waimarama beach in New Zealand in January this year, just weeks after his marriage. An online page set up to help the family after the tragedy collected about $23,000 in donations.
“From getting a no-objection certificate from the host country to buying coffins, getting a medical certificate, arranging air tickets and other paperwork, social workers have to step in,” Shameer PTK, a social worker based in Oman, told Firstpost about the challenges involved in the process. “Of course the embassy cooperates, but if there are no social workers to run from pillar to post, the mortal remains of poor workers will stay stuck for months,” he added.