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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Mumbai 'body snatchers' face jail
By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Mumbai

Lists with the names of blast victims outside a Mumbai hospital
It took a while for Gandhi's family to discover that he was dead
A poor Indian couple who allegedly stole the body of a Mumbai (Bombay) blast victim and fraudulently claimed compensation are facing a lengthy jail term.

When Mumbai was shocked by last week's bomb explosions, police say Sagar Vyapari, 30, hit upon a bizarre idea.

He and his wife, Sangeeta, went to a hospital and allegedly claimed the body of a man who had been killed in the bombings as well as a cheque for 100,000 rupees ($2,130) in compensation, given by the state government to the relatives of those who were killed.

The couple cremated the body and then applied for compensation of 500,000 rupees ($10,650) from the federal government.

As they were waiting for the cheque to arrive, the real family of the victim, Jitendra Gandhi, reported him missing.

Discovery

Searching through all 30 hospitals where blast victims were taken, they realised he had been killed only after a police officer, MB Raskar, showed them his possessions and identity card.

It's true they are extremely poor and perhaps needed the money
MB Raskar
Police official

Police investigations led them to the Vyaparis in Thane, a town outside Mumbai. Hospital records showed they had claimed Mr Gandhi's body.

Police say the Vyaparis, who are from Calcutta, admitted they had stolen the body.

Mr Vyapari apparently told the police they did it to earn some quick money for the treatment of his wife, who he said was suffering from tuberculosis.

But Mr Raskar says he does not believe the couple.

"It's true they are extremely poor and perhaps needed the money. But the tuberculosis story was concocted after they were caught to earn public sympathy," he told the BBC.

Willing to forgive

However, one of Mr Gandhi's family members appeared to be more forgiving.

He told an Indian television station: "We are still coming to terms with it, but at least they cremated the body with Hindu rites. They have a five-year-old kid and I feel sorry for him."

Candles lit in memory of the blast victims
Mumbai is still trying to come to terms with the bombings
He even suggested that he would post their bail.

But the police say the law will take its own course.

The Vyaparis have been charged with fraud, cheating and wrongfully disposing of the body. If convicted, they face a jail term of five to six years.

The incident has evoked a mixed response in a city which is still trying to come to terms with the bombings.

A police officer at the police station where the couple are being detained says they are not as innocent as they appeared on television.

But others who watched them on television said their only crime was being poor.

Media hand

Ironically, the media have inadvertently played a role in the saga.

When the Vyaparis realised that many people were looking for their loved ones after the bombings, they allegedly hatched a plan to claim a body from hospital.

The couple showed up at Cooper Hospital looking distraught.

Crying, they told television reporters that they had come to claim the body of Sunil Vyapari, Sagar's father.

Reporters who interviewed the couple decided to help them and put them in touch with the hospital authorities.

Without suspecting the couple, they handed over the body that Sagar Vyapari claimed was his father.

The authorities did not even ask for proof of their identity.

The Vyaparis appeared in court on Tuesday and were remanded in police custody.

Meanwhile, Mr Gandhi's family has left for their home town, Nasik, 200km (125 miles) from Mumbai, where they will perform his last rites.


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