Sept. 13: Dipali was looking for a block of ice to take back the body of her brother, Sheikh Raju, who was killed along with over a hundred others when the Rajdhani Express jumped rails on Monday night.
Ice, she was told by a local tout, would be available, if only she could come up with Rs 2,000.
Mass death is good business — it was proved once again.
In the arrival of distraught relatives of victims of the accident, some people in and around Gaya saw the opportunity to make a quick buck.
Hotels that normally charge Rs 100 a day for a room jacked the rent up to Rs 400. Auto-rickshaws that ferried people between the station and the hospital were asking for fares depending on the appearance of the passengers.
By the third day after the crash, touts were buzzing around the stations at Gaya and Rafiganj and the hospital where the bodies were being transported and the injured admitted, offering help, for a price.
“We did no crime by hiking car-hire charges as the market is ruled by demand and supply,” said Sonu Yadav of Gaya. He said the cars the relatives of the victims had hired were on call round the clock.
Sukumar Chowdhury and four friends had arrived at Rafiganj from Nadia on Wednesday to collect the body of his brother, Arobindo. They were at the hospital gate when a man approached them
“He called some youths and asked them to locate the body and get a coffin, ‘no problems’ he told us provided we paid him Rs 5,000,” Sukumar said.
The medical superintendent of the Gaya hospital, S.P. Singh, said the relatives who had come to claim the bodies were getting impatient as the coffins were in poor condition. “Some had lids missing and some were badly nailed together. It is probably those that took the help of the locals who got a raw deal,” Singh said.
There were some lawmen, too, who tried to make money from the tragedy.
Bimal and Debranjan Bera had gone to Rafiganj to claim the bodies of their mother Sandhya, mother-in-law Samata Samanta, and Samata’s granddaughter, Krishna.
“It was early on Wednesday when we were trying to locate the bodies that we saw policemen rifling through the pockets of the dead and the grievously injured. We were warned not to approach before they were done with their looting,” Bimal said after returning to their Daspur residence in Midnapore district.
“While we were searching the AS-2 coach, the policemen kept chasing us away, as they went over the bodies for wallets and jewellery,” he said.
Debranjan, looking wan after the ordeal, said they sat with the bodies for 24 hours on the banks of the river Dhawa, every now and then asking railway staff when the train would arrive to take them away. The reply they received was: “Aane se maloom ho jayega.”
For all the pilferers and scalpers, though, there was a retired teacher who ferried buckets of water to the injured and their relatives.