A YEAR AFTER POLICE ATROCITIES ON SANTALS

Injured people without rehabilitation

Emran Hossain . Gaibandha | Published: 01:25, Nov 11,2017 | Updated: 01:29, Nov 11,2017

 
 

It was a painful summer for the Santal and Bangali families, with many of their men and women being injured in police firing while they were evicted from the Bagda Farm area in Shahebganj, Gaibandha, last year.
With scores of splinters embedded in their body, they are unable to walk under the sun for what they said their bodies get heated up quickly.
They are also unable to keep standing or seated even for half an hour as the stress generates severe pains and weakness in them as the temperature rises.
‘My body starts heating up and my head spins if I venture out in the sun even for a few minutes,’ said Dijen Tudu, who has 50 splinters embedded in his head besides many others in the rest of his body.
‘I cannot leave my bed anymore as I became a physically challenged man,’ said 40-year old Dijen.
Dijen became the symbol of mindless police action against the 2,500 families evicted by force from Bagda Farm, on November 6, 2016.
The victims include 1,800 Santal families and 700 Bangali families.
The eviction took place five months after they had returned to the Bagda Farm area in the hope of getting back their ancestral land that were acquired by the government in 1960s.
On return to the area they built shanties for shelter.
At least three Santal men died in police firing which left dozens of others injured during the eviction drive.
Being shot at in his eyes, Dijen survived with critical injuries.
At least 35 others survived with bullet injuries.
The brutal drive forced all the 2,500 families and their injured members to leave their burnt shanties without any treatment.
Dijen was brought to a hospital in the capital in handcuffs.
Dijen became the poster boy of the brutal incident as soon as newspapers printed a photograph in which he is lying on the hospital bed in handcuffs with police guarding him.
Dijen’s helplessness captured in the photograph raised a huge public protest against the brutal eviction drive and its aftermath, prompting the government to hold meetings with Santal
community leaders.
At the meetings, the government made commitments that the evicted families would get compensations and be rehabilitated as soon as possible and the injured would be provided proper medical treatments.
‘It was nothing more than cheap publicity stunt for the government,’ recalled Dijen.
Until now, he said, the government provided no help or treatment to him or the other victims of the merciless eviction drive.
He cannot see with his left eye, which he thinks, could have been saved had he received proper and timely treatment.
Dijen said that his right eye too was fast losing sight, he can’t see things a few yards away.
Now that he depends on his wife’s earnings, said Dijen, the family of five cannot afford to get his only eye treated to restore its sight.
Dijen said that his wife, Olivia Hembrom, a day labourer, has to spend Tk 700 each month to buy pain killers for him.
Dijen had good earnings as a promising Ayurveda physician only a year back but his injuries made him dependent, Olivia recalled.
Just like Dijen, at least 35 other men and women, both Santals and Bangalis lost their ability to earn since they survived with crippling injuries they had suffered in police firing.
Majhi Hembrom, 45, survived with a dozen splinters embedded in his body, six in the head and the others in his legs.
Majhi remembers that in November he was shot at in the head, and in the abortive first eviction drive in July 2016, he was shot at by the police on both the legs.
Abul Khaleq, about 50, said that he was forced to sell the lone cow he and a neighbor jointly owned to pay for the treatment of his knee, which was injured by a police bullet.
He said that every month he has to buy medicines worth Tk 1,000.
Women victim Mungli Soren, 70, who was shot at in the chest, stopped seeing doctors as treatment became unaffordable for their families.
Santal community leader Phillimon Baskey told New Age that all the 36 persons, surviving with splinters in them badly needed continuous treatment.
He said that scores of others suffered injuries by spears and choppers as well as in baton charge by the police.
He said that charities from NGOs, and well-to-do individuals were too inadequate compared to the pressing needs of the families in distress.
Children of most of these families already dropped out of schools and started to work as day labourers or rickshaw pullers.
Swapan Kisku, son of bullet hit Bimal Kisku, dropped out of class seven as he has to work to support his family. Being shot at in both his legs, his father is unable to walk without help.
Bimal requires the care of his wife, Cecilia Baskey, round-the-clock. The family has no income and is literally living on generosity of fellow Santals.
‘Financial hardships forced Bimal to skip medication for a month now and the academic life of my third grader daughter is about to end,’ said Cecilia.
Hupna Murmu, 65, shot in the left chest in police firing during the eviction, said his left hand is losing its strength fast. He believes it has something to do with lack of proper treatment.
Hupna carried a bullet in his chest for eight days before he could get it removed in an operation at a medicine store at Birampur of Dinajpur as police kept looking for injured Santals after the eviction drive.
Hupna cannot work in this condition of his body. During last Boro harvest, he scavenged through rice fields, collecting 5 maunds of rice.
‘I see begging becoming my last resort for survival,’ said Hupna, exposing his left chest to show the scar from the bullet injury.
Gaibandha deputy commissioner Gautam Chandra Pal said that they have been constantly in touch with the Santal victims and none sought any help from him for their treatment.
He said that establishment of a cluster village by the government was underway to rehabilitate the families evicted from the Bagda Farm area.
The plan is to provide shelter to them first and then the question of creating job opportunities for them would come, said the DC.
Santal leader Phillimon Baskey dismissed the guchchagram, or cluster village programme as yet another publicity stunt of the government.
He said that the cluster village had been planned at a remote site from where it would be difficult to go out in search of jobs. 

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