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Mental Instability, Money Constraints or Ostracisation May Lead Families to Live With Corpses For Days

The death of Chhayya Chatterjee in an apartment in Kolkata came to light almost 36-48 hours after the octogenarian passed away. Her bedridden husband and their daughter are said to be suffering from behavioural disorder.

Prema Rajaram | CNN-News18

Updated:July 13, 2019, 6:35 PM IST
Mental Instability, Money Constraints or Ostracisation May Lead Families to Live With Corpses For Days
Representative Image.

Days after a family was found living with the corpse of an 82-year-woman in the south-western part of Kolkata in Behala, the local councillor and police are trying to reach out to NGOs to seek help for the family members.

The death of Chhayya Chatterjee in an apartment in the Sarsuna area of Behala came to light almost 36-48 hours after the octogenarian passed away. Her bedridden husband, Rabindranath Chatterjee (90) and their daughter Nilanjana, in her 40s, are said to be suffering from behavioural disorder.

The family members neither bothered to inform anyone of the death nor took any step to cremate the body. It was only after neighbours informed police when they unable to bear the stench emanating from the Chatterjee residence that Nilanjana said her mother might have died two days ago. Five months ago, the same family had informed neighbours two days after the Chatterjees’ 47 year-old-son Debashish died.

However, even a few months ago, Rabindranath used to go to the bank to withdraw money for the day-to-day expenses before he became bedridden. Neighbours said Rabindranath used to work in a big private firm, but his savings seemed to have dried up. The family had moved into the Sarsuna flat five years ago. An officer from the local police station said, “Nilanjana told us that she could not arrange for medicines for her parents. Neighbours also had kept away from the family.”

Over the last few years, a number of such cases have to light in the city. The most prominent of them was in 2015 when the late Partha De (44) was found to be living with the corpse of his sister Debjani and pet dogs for months. While the dogs had died months ago, Debjani had reportedly gone on an indefinite fast to “bring back balance” in the family and eventually died in December 2014.

About 50-60 skeletons were found in one side of the bedroom that appeared to belong to Debjani. Cakes and pizzas were also found near the bed. On another cot, were a few skeletons partially covered with a blanket that appeared to be of the dogs with toys around.

Partha had once worked at the TCS in the US before quitting his job in 2007 and returning to India after his mother’s demise. Debjani too had taught music at two prominent city schools and gave lessons before giving all that up. Both were unmarried.

Police had stumbled upon the case while investigating the alleged suicide of their father Arabinda De in the bathroom. That is when the skeletal remains were discovered in one of the bedrooms. Arabinda had initially insisted on cremating Debjani’s body, but later gave in.

In both cases of the Chatterjee and De families, doors and windows of their residences were kept shut to prevent the stench from going outside the house.

Psychologists say there are various reasons for families to show such behavioural signs some of which could be financial constraints, social ostracization, history of displaying psychotic disorders or even extreme emotional attachment.

“There could be issues of emotional attachments where people cannot let go after death. Some may be suffering from severe psychotic problems where their contact with reality is distorted. Hence, they don’t understand that the person is dead and continue to believe that he or she is alive. Once they lose that mental balance, the stench of bodies do not register as the sensorium is altered,” said Dr Sharmistha Mukherjee, Clinical Psychologist, Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI).

As far as the Chatterjees were concerned, there were financial constraints coupled with Nilanjana’s mentally instability. Also, lack of empathy from people around worsened the situation.

“This is another cause of worry in these times when there is a growing trend of living in an environment where we don’t know our neighbours like we used to. People are unaware of what has happened next door. The issue arises when people around do not identify the problem or call for help as most say it is the family’s personal problem,” Dr Mukherjee added.

However, doctors said there were many who were seeking help, though more awareness would have to be created.

“From the information available, it seems the individuals concerned are suffering from some psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. In the long run, these disorders can cause decline in cognitive or executive functions, including decision-making, judgement, self-care and hygiene maintenance. This gives rise to disorganised behaviour and often can run in more than one member of the family. These could be cases of intellectual disability, dementia or delirium in elderly family members,” said Dr Sourav Das, Consultant Psychiatrist, Medica Superspeciality Hospital.

With more families becoming nuclear in nature and changing social dynamics, there is a need to spread more awareness. Also, the need for neighbours to take a proactive step to inform NGOs when they feel families might need help given their living conditions.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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