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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 15:04 GMT
India blast victims' security questions
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Panipat

Kamruddin says he passed out after the blasts
Sixty-year-old Kamruddin, a milkman from Multan in Pakistan, lies wheezing in the only bed in a curious "VIP emergency room" in the chaotic government hospital in Panipat, India.

He does not remember any security person checking him when he boarded the crowded unreserved carriage of the Samjhauta (Friendship) Express at Old Delhi railway station on Sunday night.

A little over an hour after the train rolled out, an explosion rocked Kamruddin's carriage and knocked him out.

"Nobody checked us before we boarded. Nobody at all," gasps Kamruddin.

He is luckier than most of his co-passengers - doctors say he has suffered minor burns, mostly on his hands, but his asthma is worrying them.

"Whoever was behind this, the incident will give a very bad name to India," says Kamruddin.

Crowded train

Outside, Mohammed Saif, a mechanic from Old Delhi, is looking for his aunt and niece who were on the train on their journey back home to Karachi.

The stench of the dead is strong inside the gutted carriages.

He also remembers seeing off Aftab Banu, 55, and her daughter, Arfa, 20, to the railway station and coming away surprised that nobody had frisked them or checked their belongings.

"It was a crowded platform, it was a crowded train. We came and left unchecked too," he says.

This raises the question of how seriously India takes security on trains even after a series of blasts over the years. Especially on a train which is easily a prime target for any group trying to wreck the fragile India-Pakistan peace process.

Clearly, lax or no security seems to have contributed to the explosions in the two blue-coloured carriages, "built in 2003" and "painted and disinfected" last in December, according to the markings.

After the blasts comes the usual routine of a frenzied media scrum and politicians' visits to the railway where the incident happened - disregarding trains hurling up and down the adjoining tracks - followed by "VIP" visits to the hurriedly disinfected local hospital with neatly-gowned doctors.

'Resident of India?'

All this seems to undermine the human tragedy unravelling at the hospital, where tearful people arrive to try to find or identify their friends and relatives on the train.

Her visa was not extended, and she had to take the train on Sunday night
Mohammed Saif, looking for his aunt

"My sister was on the train. Can I please go in and have a look?" says a man outside a ward for convalescing mothers which has been converted into a makeshift mortuary.

Inside lie 65 charred, plastic-covered bodies of the passengers bound for Atari on the India-Pakistan border.

Even 12 hours after the incident, doctors at the hospital were saying only one body had been identified.

The doctor in charge reads out the identification record - Yasmin Akhtar, 50, a resident of Amta Chowk, Srinagar, identified from her passport and visa.

"So she was a resident of India, right?" I ask her.

"No, no, she is Muslim. She must be from Pakistan," the doctor says.

Most of the bodies are charred beyond recognition, but procedures move slowly and look chaotic, making it more agonising for relatives and friends of passengers.

There was a blast, there was smoke. People scrambled all over
Kamruddin, survivor

Mr Saif says he heard the news of the explosion from a relative who saw it on television early on Monday morning.

Twelve hours later, after visiting the hospital and the blast site, he and his friends are clueless about the whereabouts of Aftab and Arfa Banu.

The two women had come to visit Mr Saif and their family in Old Delhi for a month - it was Mrs Banu's first visit to India in 16 years.

"She didn't want to leave after a month, she was feeling unwell. But her visa was not extended, and she had to take the train on Sunday night," says Mr Saif.

Harrowing rescue

Panipat may be a fairly prosperous district of Haryana state hugging a national highway dotted with pickle and property - real estate-sellers, faux resorts and billboards announcing an "international city" are rife - but the local hospital does not even have a burns unit.


So about a dozen grievously-wounded passengers have been taken to a hospital in Delhi, some 120km (80 miles) away, for treatment.

This leaves Kamruddin the only passenger on the train who survived the blast in the hospital to recount his memories.

He says he had finished a smoke and nearly dozed off in the train when he heard an explosion.

"There was a blast, there was smoke. People scrambled all over, the train didn't stop, people started pulling the emergency chain. Then I passed out."

On the railway near Dewana, where the train halted with its two carriages on fire, the track is strewn with diesel oil, cinder, surgical gloves, bent window grilles, all pointing to the harrowing rescue operations during the night.

The stench of the dead is strong inside the gutted carriages. The floors - and the scorched skeletons of seats - are strewn with burnt clothes, hair, shoes, food.

A blackened necklace retrieved from the train
And then there is the detritus of what looks like small gifts people were taking home or to their friends and relatives across the border - half-burnt packets of Indian snacks, poppadom, a huge pile of betel leaf, packets of betel nuts, spices, even some noodles.

Outside, a forlorn railway security man Shiv Ram says he has seen nothing like this in his three decades of work.

When he arrived after midnight, the fire had been doused, but the rescue work had begun.

"I pulled out a few bodies. I think they were women. They were all black. But I think I saw a few bangles on them."

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