Not a human’s job

For two decades, Maqbool was the only autopsy man in Kashmir. He tells Zubair A. Dar that knifing thousands of bodies has taken toll on his body and mind.  
Maqbool looks exhausted. Years of slitting open bodies of conflict victims has taken a heavy toll on his body and mind. To him, every phone call comes with a message of the discovery of a body and the subsequent procedure of finding its cause of death.
I remember calling Maqbool for the first time. “Koi body hai kya, (Is there a body?),” he questioned before I could seek an appointment for an interview.  
To this Autopsy Man of Kashmir, body just means the dead remains of a person who has died an unnatural death. Maqbool has cut through 30,000 of them, he says. He has opened skulls to seek answers for what the cause of death could have been. His hands do not tremble even if the “dead lying on the autopsy table was a brother.”
Many would consider Maqbool “heartless”. But in violence torn Kashmir, autopsies had become a necessity and Mohammad Maqbool, a paramedic, had the necessary skills to conduct one.
Maqbool vividly remembers his training days. “Dr Kachroo persuaded me for hours to touch a body when I first entered the autopsy room at SMHS Hospital. I was a teenager then and was undergoing training in paramedics,” he says. “Body of a dead person then would terrify me. I would sweat and my limbs would tremble. ”
As violence rose, so did the body count of militants and security personnel. Though without a formal training, Maqbool was the only “autopsy expert” available to J&K government.
“Few cases of murder or accident would come for autopsy then. Suicides were the rarest,” Maqbool says about his training days. Then one day in 1989, Maqbool says, he heard that a militant was killed at Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar. It was none other than Aijaz Dar – the first militant killed in Kashmir’s violent conflict.
Maqbool says he grew curious and wanted to see what had remained of the militant. “When I saw his body, I turned my eyes away,” he says, little knowing what would unfold minutes later. “I was asked by police to examine the body and conduct an autopsy on that body.”
“Since then, I have never stopped. Sometimes, I would do autopsies of 10 to 12 bodies at a stretch,” he says.
As autopsies became a routine, Maqbool’s own body was giving up. Infections acquired from partially decomposed bodies were harming his health. He says that he had to take loads of antibiotics to keep the infection away. And the side-effects were causing more problems.
The psychological trauma, however, was even bitter. Scanning dissected abdomens to search for the right organ for forensic study was not an easy job.
“Allah says that dead should be handled with utmost care. Here I have the task to knife them,” Maqbool betrays his trauma. But for the family – wife and three children – Maqbool says he has considered quitting his job many times.
“Sometimes I wish I could quit. It is not the job of a human,” Maqbool admits. “My heart has turned into a stone.”
Though the daily death toll has come down and fewer bodies come to the Autopsy Unit at Srinagar’s Police Control Room where Maqbool has been performing autopsies since 1989, the two decade long distress of handling the dead have left this 52-year-old father a torn soul.
“It is not easy to recall what I have seen during these years,” he says. “Sometimes body parts wrapped in a cloth would come to me. I had to stitch a man out of it.”
He says the most traumatic were bodies of children and young girls killed in mine explosions or encounters.
“My heart, as if, would stop beating. Somehow I would keep my composure,” he says with a lowered gaze as if he had been immoral in “seeing naked bodies of young girls” who, when alive, wouldn’t even reveal their hair to a man outside their family.
Where does Maqbool draw the courage from?
“When I begin the process, I ask the dead to forgive me. While I finish and stitch them, I again ask them to defend me on the Day of Judgment as the procedure is an established norm of law,” says Maqbool. “The dead hear every word till Nimaz-e-Jinazah (Funeral Prayer) and I believe they hear my prayers too,” he adds.
Though Maqbool has been instrumental in ascertaining cause of death in several cases of homicide, suicide and murder and accidents – such cases have been on a rise lately – he takes no pride in his job. He says he does not talk about his job to his family.
“I know that I loose my temper over small matters. I clash with cops here and with my kids at my home, but I try my best to keep things to myself,” he says.
“Autopsy reveals every deed a man has done in this world,” says Maqbool while trying to explain the lava that boils inside him and threatens to explode anytime.
Lately, Maqbool says, there is some relief in his life. “Violence has come down. That was my wish all these years,” he says.


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