ON FRIDAY evening, as festival lights brighten the street outside Prakash Hospital in Noida, Rupa Devi clasps her son Jitendra Kumar’s hand. As the tears begin to fall, the two CRPF constables sitting next to her — Jugal Kishore and Gurudev — tell her softly, “Your son has braved death and look how he is responding now.”
Kishore then waves his hand near Kumar’s face, which is turned towards a corner of the room, and snaps his fingers. The 28-year-old patient’s half-open eyes blink and his lips quiver. In this first-floor room, even a flicker counts as progress.
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Six years ago, when Kumar told his mother that he had cleared the first round of physical examinations for joining the CRPF, Devi had tried to discourage him. “But I could not stop him. He told me that he was going to serve and protect the nation,” she says.
In 2013, Kumar, in his first posting as a constable with the 80th battalion, was sent to Bastar, the ground zero of a deadly war between security forces and Maoists. On April 12, 2014, he was in an ambulance that was blown apart by an improvised explosive device — the blast killed five personnel and two medical attendants. Kumar slipped into a coma. Ever since — two years and six months — Devi and the two constables on duty have been waiting for him to wake up.
There is hope. With a gradual improvement in his medical condition, Kumar was taken off the ventilator two months ago. “He is not in coma any more though he is in a state of altered consciousness,” says Dr V S Solanki at Prakash Hospital.
But there is despair, too. “The problem we are expecting is in the movement of limbs. At the time of admission, he was in a state of deep vein thrombosis due to the nature of his wounds — on the spine and head. In order to address this, physiotherapy sessions are being given to him. At present, he is able to move on his four limbs,” says Dr Solanki.
Kumar was the primary breadwinner of his family, also including his father, who works as a daily wage labourer at Muzaffarpur district’s Dubha village in Bihar, and two younger siblings.
Months after the blast, his parents moved to a hospital in Raipur and then Noida. His sister managed to complete her graduate degree from a college in Samastipur, Bihar, but his younger brother dropped out of school.
“For the last 30 months, our home is limited to the four walls of a hospital room. How can we leave our son alone?
My husband and I used to shuttle between Bihar and Raipur, and now Noida. We cannot leave any of our three children alone,” says Devi. A few days ago, Kumar’s father went to his village but Devi wanted to stay by Kumar’s side for the festival week.
“I keep a fast on Chhath here and my husband performs all the rituals on those days in Bihar. For the last two years, I have only been praying and making vows to the gods for my son’s health,” says Devi.
“When a CRPF jawan suffers this fate, not a single voice is raised. They also protect the country and its people, and there is a mother that has given birth to them. Where is the uproar?” she asks.
According to Dr Solanki, Kumar has “tremendous support” from the hospital, his family and the CRPF, which has posted two personnel with him.
R D Jeany Anal, commandant of the 80th battalion, says Kumar’s colleagues “are praying for him, and wishing with all our strength that he recovers, and is with us again”.
Narrating the turn of events on the day of the blast, the senior officer says, “The men were providing safe passage to election staff and other paramilitary personnel deployed for the last phase of the general elections in 2014. They were tasked with clearing the road between Jheeram ghati and Darbha on National Highway 30, which had witnessed a deadly ambush on the Congress parivartan yatra in 2013 (when 28 people, including most of the party’s leadership in Chhattisgarh were killed).”
According to Anal, the troops were in the process of withdrawing when the blast occurred. “One personnel who was not feeling well due to the heat had to take a lift on one of the ambulances along with nine others. The ambulance
had travelled only 300 metres when it came into contact with an IED. The blast ripped the ambulance apart. Apart from those killed, five others were severely injured. They were evacuated to Jagdalpur and taken to Raipur for better treatment,” he says.
CRPF officials say Kumar has been given the best possible medical treatment. “The force has paid for the treatment at all times, and we have been ensuring that his salary continues to be deposited on time. Two constables have also
been posted with him round the clock,” says an official.
According to Dr Solanki, Kumar was admitted in January with multiple injuries on his head, spine, chest, abdomen and lower limbs. “He was critically ill and in deep coma. He underwent several operations of the brain, abdomen and chest. A tracheotomy (hole in the wind pipe to facilitate breathing) and a feeding tube gastrostomy were performed and the patient was on ventilator for months. The injuries have healed and now he responds to painful sensations and loud commands. Injuries and a deep vein blockage of limbs have been resolved, and general health has improved,” says Solanki.
“The ENT surgeon expects Kumar to be able to speak normally soon. Soon, the feeding tube will be removed and we will be able to feed him through the mouth,” says Solanki.
Meanwhile, it’s the same traumatic routine, every day, in that hospital room. Every morning, after the physiotherapy session, the two constables lift and move Kumar around as much as possible. Gurudev, the other CRPF man on duty, tells the grieving mother: “It might take time but we know that he will be walking and running on his feet very soon.”