Outside the Subzi Mandi Mortuary today, the blackened, stiff corpses lay against the walls, some with their arms outstretched and their eyes open.
Inside, where the stench of urine and decay filled the air, one room was piled nearly three feet high with the burned and twisted remains of at least 25 persons. All were recovered from the same riot scene, morgue officials said.
Since the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh security guards Wednesday, the street violence that has erupted against the Sikh community has produced a death toll that has strained the main police morgue beyond capacity.
Nearly 200 bodies, many of them charred beyond recognition, have filled the city morgue in the past two days, the victims of the worst violence in the city since the rioting that followed the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
"We normally have 12 cases a day," said Dr. L.T. Ramani, who is in charge of the morgue. "I have been here since 1973 and this is the first time I've seen so many bodies. They are totally charred; not even the bones are spared." Because of the severity of the burns, Ramani said, it was difficult to determine whether the victims, most of them men, had been beaten before they were set on fire.
Asked about the unofficial death toll yesterday of 148 for the entire country, Ramani said, "Maybe they are not aware of details. There is no question of hiding bodies ." Ramani said most of the 140 to 150 burn victims were Sikhs, identifiable only by the steel bracelets worn on their wrists. The bracelets are one of the religion's mandatory symbols.
The other victims were non-Sikhs who had been shot or stabbed to death, he said.
Some of the Sikhs were killed after they were pulled out of trains traveling into the city, he said. Twenty-seven passengers were killed at two railway stations in Haryana State south of the capital, United News of India reported today.
Ramani said that the casualties began "pouring in" to the morgue, located in the city's northern section, yesterday but that more bodies were being brought in as they were found. Although reports of new deaths continued today, Ramani said that he had received no casualties since the imposition yesterday of a shoot-on-sight curfew in parts of the city where sectarian violence has been the heaviest.
The severity of the burns also has hindered identification, he said. Only 40 to 45 of the victims have been identified by name, he said. In addition, the curfew has prevented relatives and friends from coming to the morgue to identify the bodies.
Ramani said a complete autopsy will be performed on each of the bodies, but that the large number of dead and sporadic lighting and air conditioning failures were slowing his work considerably.
With the exception of two city districts, the morgue serves all of the capital region. Ramani said some casualties have also been brought to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, the hospital to which Gandhi was rushed after she was shot.