Hospitals in Namchi and Jorethang, two small towns in Sikkim, have been witnessing a rush of patients from Darjeeling, hit by bullets during the Gorkhaland statehood protest, in the last two months. The injured preferred not to go to hospitals in Siliguri or Darjeeling in West Bengal, fearing persecution by the state later, although going to Namchi and Jorethang meant travelling an additional 55 km to 90 km up and down landslide-prone roads. In Namchi, the 130-bed district hospital has seen patients with bullet injuries trickle in since mid-June. On June 17 and July 8, security forces and police allegedly opened fire at statehood supporters. Protesters said on July 18 too police opened fire in Mirik to quell a protest and one person died. The police have denied the charge although there is no count of the injured persons.
Darjeeling district police chief Akhilesh Chaturvedi said: “We do not have an estimate of how many people were injured during the clashes on June 17 and July 8. One person died yesterday (Tuesday) in clashes.’’ Asked about the other seven dead, Chaturvedi refused to comment. According to estimates given by the two hospitals in Sikkim, 17 patients with bullet injuries of varying degrees were admitted. Those with serious injuries were admitted in Manipal Central Referral Hospital, Gangtok. The newest patient in Namchi district hospital is GJM worker Sujit Thapa, who arrived at 2.30 am on July 19 with a bullet injury near his left elbow.
Thapa claimed he was injured during the CRPF firing that started after clashes broke out in Mirik — first between workers of the GJM and the Trinamool Congress and later, between the GJM and the security forces stationed there. “My friend Ashish, who was standing next to me, suddenly dropped to the ground. He had been hit by a bullet and died on the spot,” Thapa, a tea plucker from Selimbong tea estate, said. “All the serious cases that came to us from Darjeeling were admitted to our surgery ward. We discharged four patients a few days back. We have four patients remaining,’’ said Dr D S Keronge, the chief medical officer of the hospital.
All the patients from Darjeeling came with bullet injuries, he said. “On the evening of June 17, we got seven patients with bullet injuries. Five were discharged. Some patients came later. On June 19, we got a patient who had a bullet injury in his arm and his bone had been shattered by the bullet. On June 26, another patient who was injured by a rubber bullet, came. This patient had preferred to stay at home, and only came to us when his injury got infected,” the doctor said. “Patients came here for security reasons,” he said.
The chief medical officer of Jorethang hospital, Dr S N Adhikary, gave a similar list as Dr Keronge. One of the patients, 36-year-old Ashok Tamang, who had a lacerated liver from a bullet wound, was referred to the Manipal hospital but succumbed to his injury. Lakpa Tamang, who is now in the Namchi hospital, was shot in the abdomen. The van driver transported vegetables, rice, pulses to Darjeeling from Siliguri. Tamang said he got caught in a rally on June 17 behind a long line of vehicles. He abandoned his car and walked to North Point College where clashes were violent. “People were running helter skelter…. Tear gas was used and my eyes started burning. I looked around and found a drum of water. I bent to wash my eyes and then, I felt excruciating pain in my abdomen. I knew I had been shot…. I remember waking up in a hospital in Siliguri,’’ he said. But Tamang soon moved from Siliguri to Namchi. In the same clash were 30-year-old Reynold Mukhia from Ghoom and 43-year-old Lalit Narula from Mirik. Mukhia took a bullet in the groin.
Narula has also been at Namchi for a month. He said the CRPF had surrounded the Patlebas headquarters of the GJM on June 17. The GJM supporters started the march to protest the CRPF move. When the police told the protesters to go back to Singamari, they did not relent. “We had instructions from our leaders that there should be no violence, so we were completely unarmed,” he said. But the police lathi-charged and released tear gas. “But no one was leaving, so I didn’t leave,” he said. Narula said he took a bullet when he was trying to carry away an injured party worker.