March 23, 2020
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‘She Was Clinically Alive’

“My job didn’t stop with Mrs Gandhi or Beant Singh. Bodies kept coming.”

‘She Was Clinically Alive’
Jitender Gupta
‘She Was Clinically Alive’

In October 1984, Dr T.D. Dogra, an assistant professor at the department of forensic medicine and toxicology at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), was asked to head a team of three doctors to conduct the post-mortem examination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. He didn’t know he would be asked to repeat the procedure on her assassin Beant Singh and many other victims of the anti-Sikh riots that shook Delhi in the aftermath of Indira’s assassination. Dogra recalls the nightmarish three days he spent in the mortuary and casualty. Currently head of the department of medicine and toxicology at AIIMS, he spoke to Anuradha Raman. Excerpts:

Where were you when you heard the news that Mrs Gandhi had been shot at?

In the lecture theatre room. I heard a constable shout “Indira Gandhi ko kuchch ho gaya” and rushed to the emergency room. I saw her being wheeled in at 9.30 am, and put on intubation—manual pumping of respiration when someone is seriously injured. She was taken to the operation theatre immediately.

Was she alive when she was brought in?

She was clinically alive. We use the word clinically alive when respiration, lungs and brain are functioning. It’s only when they cease to perform permanently and irreversibly that we call the patient clinically dead. So clinically Mrs Gandhi was very much alive when she was being wheeled in to the OT. I recall Sonia Gandhi and R.K. Dhawan being present there.

When were you summoned?

At around 2.10 pm, I was called and told that she had expired. By then, Rajiv Gandhi had come. I think health minister B. Shankaranand was also there. A decision was taken to conduct the postmortem. But by then crowds had gathered all around the hospital and it had become difficult to even take the body out to the mortuary. I was worried the crowds would crash into the glasspanes around the OT. Besides, the gathering crowds had access to the mortuary and they had already started shouting slogans. I was in such a hurry that I had forgotten to put on my gloves till someone pointed this out to me.

“There was tremendous pressure on us to declare Mrs Gandhi dead on arrival in the post-mortem report. I refused to do so.”

What happened then?

To avoid mutilation, as there were 30 entry wounds (firearm injuries), I took care to follow the incisions made by the surgeons.

Can you describe what crossed your mind when you performed the post-mortem?

I had had the chance of meeting Indira Gandhi on two previous occassions and, contrary to what people said about her, she came across as a warm person. Now I was face to face with her in the OT. There was tremendous pressure on us to declare her dead on arrival in the post-mortem report when she was actually alive in the morning. I refused to do so.

What were your thoughts when you were called in again to perform the post-mortem of Beant Singh the following day?

I kept thinking why these men had turned so violent. I found it absurd that her own security guards had killed her. But I had a job to do. It didn’t stop with Beant Singh. The bodies just kept coming, some burnt beyond recognition. It was painful.

Do you regret being in the profession you are in?

No, I see it as a way of ensuring justice. That is our natural right and my contribution is a small step towards ensuring that.

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