Identifying the dead

June 4, 2023

An alarming average of 50 unidentified bodies are recovered from parts of Lahore every month, according to data provided by DATH, an NGO working to impart training and advice with regard to drug addiction

The DATH report draws attention to several high-risk areas where a large concentration of drug addicts is typically found. — Photos by Rahat Dar
The DATH report draws attention to several high-risk areas where a large concentration of drug addicts is typically found. — Photos by Rahat Dar


ccording to the 2023 census data, Lahore is home to 13,979,390 people. Besides, the city has over 185,000 homeless individuals. A significant portion of those are labourers who migrate to the provincial capital in search of livelihood and end up staying for extended periods.

As per government records, the plight of the homeless is alarming. They suffer from malnutrition, which often forces them to take up begging or rely on free meals provided at various shrines such as Data Darbar. What’s even more horrifying is that many of these labourers start doing drugs. They often die young, nameless and unidentified.

A report compiled by the Drug Advisory Training Hub (DATH), a non-profit organisation dedicated to drug awareness campaigns, shows an alarming average of 50 unidentified bodies are being discovered in Lahore each month. The report draws attention to several high-risk areas identified as hotspots where a significant number of the bodies are found. Approximately, 20 such areas have been classified as red zones, where a large concentration of drug addicts is typically found. These include Data Darbar, Bhati Gate, Tibbi Gali, Gari Shahu, Ravi Road and Gowalmandi.

Syed Zulfiqar Hussain, an anti- narcotics campaign consultant at DATH, says that the organisation initiated collection of data on unidentified bodies amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The project also sought to ensure a respectful handling and burial of these bodies.

An assistant sub-inspector in Punjab Police tells this scribe, on condition of anonymity, that reports about the dead are often received over phone, sometimes from the Edhi Foundation. Identifying these bodies is a complicated process, he adds. The police approach the medico-legal examinations offices at hospitals and utilise their biometric system for identification. Once identified, the bodies are submitted to the dead house of the hospital.

Muhammad Younas Bhatti, a public information officer for Edhi Foundation, claims that there are 50 to 60 unidentified bodies presently lying in the dead houses of various hospitals in Lahore.

Bhatti is not satisfied with the identification process. He particularly talks about “a lack of cooperation” from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) which has hindered progress. Absence of fingerprints on most of the bodies further complicates the identification procedure.

The ASI adds that the process of advertising and seeking information about an unidentified body takes nearly two weeks. During this time, the police employ various means to spread the wrod, such as newspaper advertisements, WhatsApp groups, social media platforms and wall posters. Additionally, the police engage with the public, question individuals about any knowledge they may have of the deceased and/ or their home and family.

The hospitals complete the post mortem examination of the deceased and prepare reports documenting the findings. The police and the hospitals maintain separate files about each body.

Additionally, to ensure proper record-keeping and identification, the authorities attach the slip from the graveyard, indicating the assigned grave number, to the respective file.

50-odd unidentified bodies are presently lying in the dead houses of various hospitals in Lahore.
50-odd unidentified bodies are presently lying in the dead houses of various hospitals in Lahore.


In 2020, Shahbaz Akmal Jandran, an advocate of Lahore High Court, filed a petition before the court about the disrespect shown to unidentified corpses. Citing Article 14 of the constitution, which declares the inviolability of human dignity and the privacy of the home, the petition sought intervention to address the issue.

The case was heard by Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, who recognised its importance and called upon all stakeholders to appear before the court. Justice Khan also highlighted the significance of the matter and urged the government departments to collaborate in order to develop legislation that protects the dignity of human bodies. Regrettably, however, no substantial progress has been made so far in addressing the issue.

Last year, an incident in which unidentified bodies were found lying on the rooftop of Nishtar Hospital in Multan attracted significant media traction. The focus was on the legal processes pertaining to the transfer of the deceased individuals to the teaching hospital’s Anatomy Department. This prompted Jandran to seek information from the Lahore police regarding the number of bodies they had handed over to medical colleges/ universities. For this he invoked the right to information law.

Jandran says the policeclaimed that not a single body had been handed over to any medical college or university. However, King Edward Medical University admitted to receiving 17 bodies (from the police) for the purpose of anatomical studies. Later, a private medical college asserted that it had purchased bodies from the KEMU for Rs 25,000 per body. The KEMC rubbished the claim.

Jandran says that the situation became even more complicated when Allama Iqbal Medical College claimed to have received bodies for their anatomy department from the mental hospital. However, the management of the mental hospital refuted this claim as baseless.


The issue of dead bodies of the nameless and homeless is closely linked to the easy availability of drugs. Last month, DIG Sadiq Dogar of Punjab Police presided over a meeting in which he emphasised the need for comprehensive and robust action against drug suppliers in Lahore. He also suggested putting drug addicts in rehabilitation centres for a period of 60 days.

Syed Kausar Abbas, the executive director of Sustainable Social Development Organisation (SSDO), fears that that the main obstacle the police are faced with is a lack of resources.

In recent months, the SSDO has conducted a host of awareness-raising sessions with several public bodies as well as the Lahore police in order to address the issue of drugs and the use of novel substances among university students.

Abbas says that simply apprehending a drug addict is not the solution. “Jails and thana katcheris are already crowded and struggling with space constraints. Additionally, incarceration may not effectively address the underlying mental health issues faced by drug addicts. Furthermore, the prison environment could inadvertently facilitate drug-related activities due to the organised nature of drug crimes in Pakistan.”

The Punjab Institute of Mental Hospital in Lahore has a capacity of 120 beds. 20 of the beds are allocated for new admissions, primarily for those suffering from drug addiction who may exhibit violent behaviour. A source in the Social Welfare Department reveals that a crucial prerequisite for admission is the presence of the addict’s family.

This ensures a support system for the patient during their treatment and recovery.

In a recent development, the Punjab government, in collaboration with the health department, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the NADRA. This partnership aims to assist hospitals in identifying and resolving the issue of unidentified bodies present in the morgues. With NADRA’s support, hospitals can use their database and expertise to help establish the identity of each individual, facilitating proper handling and respectful treatment of the deceased.

The writer is an investigative journalist working with several national and international news organisations. She tweets  @saddiamazhar

Identifying the dead