A week on, kin yet to get Kerala PhD student’s body from Germany

A week on, kin yet to get Kerala PhD student’s body from Germany

India News

A week after a 25-year-old student from Kerala accidentally drowned at a lake in Göttingen in Germany, the family and friends of the student are struggling to bring his body back to India to perform the last rites.

Arun Sathyan, who was pursuing his PhD at University Medical Centre in Göttingen (UMG), drowned in the Rosdorfer Baggersee lake on June 25 (Saturday). Sathyan, a native of Kochi in Kerala, is survived by his parents and a younger brother.

“Last week around 3 pm, Arun had decided to go out to swim at the Rosdorfer Baggersee lake with his friends. But since his friends did not join, he decided to go by himself. He went to the lake in the area where you are not allowed to swim,” said Mayank Chaudhary, one of Arun’s friends.

Arun with his parents.

Arun was to meet his friends in the evening for dinner. As he did not turn up, his friends tried to contact him over phone, but in vain. So they began searching for him at 6 pm.

“We assumed he would be back by night, but when he did not return we went to the police at 6 am, the next day.”

The police report accessed by The Indian Express showed that Arun’s belongings, including his phone, backpack were found close to the lake. The path from where his belongings were found led directly to the water, and upon searching under the water for over 20 minutes, his body was found, after which it was taken for an autopsy.

“This was a complete shock to us. We were not prepared for it,” Mayank says.

Repatriation process slowed

While losing someone close can be devastating, the struggle to bring home the loved one has been more emotionally taxing for the family and friends of Arun as they have run into complications and are encountering delays while working to have his body transported from Germany to India.

Initially, Mayank and his friends had got in touch with the Indian Consulate at Hamburg in Germany, and informed them about this. The Consulate officials said that they would take care of the matter, he said. “Both the hospital and police were not giving us details and so we had to get a power of attorney from the family.”

Arun on video call with his family.

However, the embassy had said that the authorities would not bear the cost of transporting the body to India. So, Arun’s friends decided to raise funds of over 5,000 Euros for repatriation and funeral costs, and intended to donate any extra amount to his family. The group has been working with a funeral home but the repatriation process has been slow, complicated by factors including delays caused by difficulty in co-ordinating the work of different departments, lack of paperwork, and off days for the institutions and officers in charge.

“If we asked the funeral company to start the process, they pointed towards another authority and said that they did not receive the death certificate. When we approached the Embassy, the officials said they required his passport to provide a no-objection certificate. So we had to go to the police to get access to his belongings, which were released only after days of persuasion and long processes,” Mayank said.

Arun’s best friend and lab partner in Germany, Venkatapathi Challa said, “While I do acknowledge that there are a lot of rules and regulations to be followed, this is not India where we know people and can get things done on request. The German bureaucracy functions in a different way. They have to gather a lot of information so as to push towards making it easier. It has been a hard time for all of us. They work on certain time periods and they don’t do beyond that.”

A holiday in institutions on Wednesday further slowed down the process. Right now, the family is waiting for a no objection certificate from the embassy and an embalming certificate from the funeral company, for which, they are afraid, they must wait for the weekend to get over to receive it.

Back in India, the family of Arun Sathyan is completely devastated and has been trying their best to put pressure on the officials.

Arun’s younger brother Athul Sathyan told IE.com that his family was “broken” over the loss of Arun. “My mother is completely devastated, she is unwell and fell unconscious as soon as she heard the news. She has been crying for days together.” His father, an employee at the Cochin Shipyard Limited too, is heartbroken.

Arun with his friends.

“I have not let them get involved in the process as they are very emotional right now,” Athul said. He said that he was staying strong as he was focused on bringing his brother’s body home.”

Athul said that his family and friends have been putting pressure on all authorities locally. “We have been in touch with the office of the Minister of State for External Affairs, while another minister from Kerala directly rang up the office of the Consulate General of India in Germany.”

“From our side, we have done everything and yet it is disheartening to see the process take so long. An embalming certificate will take a maximum of 30 minutes and now they are saying that they won’t issue it until Monday. How long do we wait for?” Athul said.

The family members till now have not got any specific inputs from the authorities on when their son’s body would be brought back to the country.

‘A great, kind-hearted guy’

Arun’s friends describe him as a fun-loving, kind-hearted human being. “Arun was a wonderful friend who touched the lives of those around him. He had an eternally smiling face and was always ready to help people. He enjoyed science and worked with much determination,” they wrote.

Athul said that his brother was driven and passionate about his studies and work. “Though he has had a lot of bumps in his career, he never gave up and always was working hard.”

“It’s bad enough we lost someone close, but now we are restless that it has been a week and we still have no information about his return. We want to bring him back as soon as possible. It’s the least we can do,” Athul said.

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