‘Dead’ man walking on last rites: Here’s what happened in Tripura’s Kalibazaar village

In a surprise turn of events, a 22-year-old youth, who was reportedly dead for a few weeks, turned up at his ‘shraddh’ or customary last rites Tuesday at the Kalibazaar village in Tripura’s West Tripura district.

The incident left the family and the police flummoxed, especially since the latter had handed over the ‘deceased’s’ body to the family after he had gone “missing” for a few days.

Drug menace and a missing child

Akash Sarkar of Rangotia Para in the West Bamutia gram panchayat of Tripura’s West district went missing after his father Kanak Sarkar, 46, found him in possession of adhesive cans and tubes, which he reportedly used as a cheap narcotic. According to reports, Kanak had “disciplined” him following which Akash left home.

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“I’ve been trying to bring him back on track. My son was involved in some illegal activities, had fallen in some bad company and was addicted to drugs. I often tried to discipline him and he used to run away to his sister’s place nearby,” Kanak told indianexpress.com.

Kanak is a mason and is not much educated. His first wife passed away when Akash was 1.5 years old. A daughter from his first wife was married off a few years back and lives close by. His second wife Dipali Roy Sarkar gave birth to two children.

Neighbors say Akash, who grew up in a motherless childhood, became arrogant over time and didn’t listen to his father. After running away from home, Akash went to Agartala, around 20 km from his residence. However, he soon fell ill and got admitted at a state-run hospital, where he stayed under treatment for 4-5 days.

Akash Sarkar at his home. (Express photo: Debraj Deb)

Police intervention

Five days after Akash ran away from his home, his father received a call from a neighbor saying his son was at the morgue of the Govind Ballabh Pant (GBP) Hospital, the largest state-run referral hospital in Tripura. Someone gave him the contact of a police officer from the Battala police outpost which, he was told, was dealing with a case of unnatural death.

“My son might be a brat but he still is my child. I was in a daze. I called the officer who informed me that an officer from the Kalibazaar police outpost, which is in our area, would soon be visiting us. The official went to my daughter’s place, where she wailed and cried for her brother. But I expressed doubt over the photo shown to me,” Kanak said.

He also said the same photo was shared with a local gram panchayat member on his phone since Kanak doesn’t own a mobile phone. He too expressed doubt at that photo. “I had my doubts but the police officer who had come to my daughter’s place shouted at me and accused me of refusing to identify my son since he was from my previous marriage. It was shameful, plus my daughter was wailing loudly. So, I remained silent,” Kanak added.

Confusion and consent

Kanak went to the Battala police outpost with his daughter and when the officials showed him seven pictures and although he kept denying, Kanak says the police convinced him that the body was indeed his son’s. The confused man relented after cops showed him a bag, which he says looked exactly like the one Akash had bought some time back.

Kanak Sarkar with his young daughter at his ancestral house at Rangotia para in West Tripura. (Express photo: Debraj Deb)

“A sentry brought a khaki bag, which looked like one Akash had bought 1-1.5 months back. I saw the bag and was confused. A pair of trousers inside it seemed like Akash’s but a shirt inside didn’t look like one. I was confused and said it might be my son’s body,” he said.

The police officials later took him to the GBP Hospital morgue, where Kanak says he once raised again objects and said the body didn’t look anything like Akash. “Whoever it was, it didn’t look like Akash. The face was bloodied, skin was wrinkled, ribs were prominent and the body was swollen. It was almost decomposing but the police told me the face was damaged since the body was fished out of a waterbody,” Kanak said.

Finally, Kanak gathered some money from his pockets, added some from his daughter and paid Rs 2,000 for the cremation. He went back to his village, called the elders and arranged for the last rites on the third day as per customs. However, as soon as he started his son’s last rites, someone rushed to him and told him that Akash was spotted in Agartala city. The rituals were stopped midway and the priests made both the father and his son undergo ‘prayaschitya’ or penance.

On how he feels to get his son back, Kanak says, “I got back my son and I’m happy but I feel sad at the same time. God knows whose body I cremated.”

Akash’s take

Akash feels the goof-up was on the police’s side. “I was admitted to a hospital in Agartala for 4-5 days after I ran away from my home. I had no idea what transpired here in the meantime. Someone from our village spotted me in the city and asked me to come back home. I returned to find out elaborate arrangements of my ‘shradh’ had been made. I thought something might have happened to my father but I was totally confused to see my own last rites were being done,” Akash said.

He said his own father could never have mistaken someone else for him. While the 22-year-old admitted he was addicted to drugs and narcotics, he said he wanted to come out of the clutches of drugs and would be visiting a doctor soon.

Feelers among neighbors

Since Akash mostly grew up among the neighbors in a motherless childhood, local resident Dipali Mandal said irrespective of the confusion centering the false news of his death, Akash’s safe return is a happy thing.

“We have been seeing Akash since he was a child. His mother passed away when he was 1.5 years old. He grew up among the neighbors. His father got married again. He became unruly and when disciplined, he often used to run away to his sister’s place. We were deeply saddened to hear that he had died but were glad when he returned. We want him to get rid of the drugs and get a proper life,” she said.

Neighbors gather near Kanak Sarkar’s residence. (Express photo: Debraj Deb)

Ashish Mandal, who lives close to the Sarkar family, said the goof-up centering Akash’s false death news might be amusing for a few but it was sad news for the locality. He hopes the troubled youth leaves his bad company.

Case of mistaken identity or coercion?

While Akash and his father say the police goofed up with the dead body, the police blame it squarely on the former and said since the relatives of the supposedly deceased boy had identified the body, the police can’t be held liable.

Mohanpur Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Kamal Bikash Majumder told the media, “His father and sister identified the clothes and a bag of the deceased, only after which the body was handed over to them. This case is from Battala outpost, death, identification and processing all happened there. It was a case of mistaken identity from the parent’s side.”

He also said preliminary investigation revealed that the boy doesn’t have good character anticedents and was involved in a few cases of thefts and burglaries. Akash often stayed missing for 2-3 days, the official said.

On how Akash’s father mistook his own son, the SDPO said since the body swelled due to drowning, it might have led to the mistaken identity. A senior official of Tripura Police, who didn’t wish to be named, told indianexpress.com that a body was found from a public waterbody of a local club in the Melarmath area of ​​Agartala city earlier this month. While a case of unnatural death was registered with the Battala police outpost, the official said the relatives of the deceased identified the body following which, the body was disposed of.

However, the official didn’t rule out chances of coercion from the police and said, “The family members had identified the dead body and had submitted a written statement. Accordingly, they cremated the body and were carrying out the ritual. Now, an enquiry has been ordered to see if there was any pressure from the police.”

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