Mumbai girls’ death at Russian medical hostel sparks debate

Deccan Chronicle.  | K A Dodhiya

Nation, Current Affairs

The families of the girls have alleged that the girls died due to burns they suffered in the fire and not due to suffocation.

The 16-storey dormitory, which belongs to one of Russia's top medical schools, caught fire late Wednesday, leaving a total of 43 people in need of medical attention. (Photo: Screengrab)

Mumbai: The death of Karishma Bhonsale and Puhja Kallur due to suffocation after a fire broke out on the fourth floor room of Russia’s Smolensk State Medical University hostel on Sunday morning has set off a debate on whether Russian authorities are trying to cover up the incident and hide details of the incident.

While the families of the girls have alleged that the girls died due to burns they suffered in the fire and not due to suffocation, Indian students in the institute refuted the same and said the faces of the girls did not have any burn marks when they were placed for paying homage in the institute after the post-mortem.

Students also said that they were told by the institute that the bodies would be flown to India on Wednesday as the passports of the girls had been damaged and it would take some time for the Indian Embassy to draw up new documents.

Speaking over the phone from SSMU, another fourth year student from the institute, said that the fire that engulfed the fourth floor of hostel number two was enormous.

“The smoke from the fire had engulfed the fourth floor and the two floors above but the fire fighters managed to douse the fire within a short time. However, it was some hours before the smoke cleared and that is when the bodies of Bhosale and Kallur were discovered,” said the student.

He added that the hostel has been sealed and students have been accommodated in hostels one and three that house the other Indian students. “The institute held an emergency meeting on Sunday evening and explained the situation and the procedure that would be followed for sending back the bodies of the two victims.

After the post-mortem, the bodies were brought back to the institute on Monday so that we could pay our respects. We did not see any burn marks on the faces or heads of either of the two girls,” said the student, who hails from Navsari.

When asked how the passports of the girls got damaged if the fire did not affect the rooms in which the two girls were trapped, he said that he only knew it because the institute said so but as the hostel has been off-limits there is no way to ascertain the facts.

He also said that the institute has so far been very helpful to all the Indian students and is taking due care for their comfort and well-being after the incident. “They are treating us better than what we get from our relatives. All our needs are being taken care of by the institute and our mentor Dr Alok Aeron who is also Indian and a consultant for the institute,”.

Meanwhile, minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj had tweeted on Monday that bodies of the girls would be sent to Moscow after which they would be flown to Mumbai. As Moscow is a six-eight hour drive from Smolensk and the flight to Mumbai takes eight to ten hours, the bodies are expected to arrive in Mumbai on Wednesday.