Two staff nurses tried to be everywhere at once, and fix too many broken people. They struggled to keep track as the IV fluid ran out, and had to pacify angry crowds. Two of their colleagues were on duty in the labour room and the operation theatre, where the only doctor for the night was stationed.
This was Dumka, the sub-capital of Jharkhand, the assembly constituency of the chief minister, whose voters sent his father — a three-time chief minister — to the Lok Sabha seven times.Dumka
Here, on Thursday night, at the end of a polling day on which violence was widely anticipated, two nurses with the bare essential equipment were tasked with patching up 10 badly injured men, and sending them to hospitals five to eight hours’ drive away.
“Still, today is better, there are four of us instead of the usual three,” one of the nurses said.
The number of politicians who turned up at the Sadar Hospital after the Maoist attack that killed five policemen and three poll officials was, expectedly, more than the number of nurses.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, former chief minister and sitting Kodarma MP Babulal Marandi — now the JVM(P) candidate from Dumka — and BJP candidate Sunil Soren showed up and, seeing the crowd’s mood, hastily retreated. But the man the crowd really wanted to confront never showed up.
“Shibu Soren kahan hai?” they demanded again and again during the impatient wait for the sitting MP. At midnight, a group, worried that the IV fluid drip for the driver of the Tata Magic, one of the two vehicles attacked, may not last the journey to Dhanbad, barged into the hospital, seeking an answer from Shibu Soren.
Shibu Soren finally showed himself on Friday morning, at a ceremony organised at the Police Lines to pay tribute to the dead policemen. He came around 11.30 am, accompanied by his chief minister son. He was late. “You must not make the dead wait,” a CRPF officer said angrily.
Dumka, Deoghar and Pakur were added to the union home ministry’s scheme for LWE areas only in April 2012. Sahibganj, Godda and Jamtara, three other districts that make up Santhal Pargana, are not considered LWE-hit.
Thursday’s attack was the second major Naxal strike in the six-district Santhal Pargana area in under a year. When Pakur SP Amarjit Balihar was killed on the way to Pakur in Dumka’s Kathikund block — adjacent to Sikaripara where Thursday’s attack took place — on July 2 last year, the police largely accepted it as a one-off incident of an officer paying the price for letting his guard down.
The Jharkhand Police have always considered the idea of Santhal Pargana being a Maoist “expansion zone” as far-fetched. But as a villager outside Sadar police station said on Thursday night, “Dumka is not safe any more. They (Maoists) seem to be everywhere.”
Most reporters on the beat have heard the anecdote about police having surrounded a top Maoist, and then being forced to let him go because someone in the JMM had made a call to someone. The story is probably apocryphal, but it still says something about the relationship between political parties and the Maoists.
A senior JMM leader once told this reporter, “Who are the Maoists? These are our boys. They are JMM workers by day, and roam with a gun by night.” On Thursday night, the “boys” chose to hit the JMM in its home in Dumka.
Around 11.30 pm, Rekha Rajak sat inside a stationary ambulance and wailed alone. “They put him in this vehicle and asked us to go to Ranchi (400 km away),” she said, referring to her husband Ram Pratap Rajak, a poll official injured in the attack.
“I have no money for fuel, and I am worried the driver will abandon us midway,” Rekha said.
Earlier in the evening, Ram Pratap and Rekha’s son Shivshankar Rajak told this reporter that his father, an industries department official, had called his mother on her mobile phone around 6 pm, asking for water. Ram Pratap had told his wife that he had been shot in the foot, concealing the fact that he had been injured in the head as well. It was 8.30 pm by the time help reached him.
At Sikaripara police station, shoulders slumped as news came in that Assistant Sub-Inspector R N Singh’s body had been spotted at the attack site. A young constable kept asking a colleague who had returned after a search-and-rescue operation, whether a friend had made it.
“I don’t know, it was too dark, there were bodies lying all around. I counted eight. Their faces had been blackened by the blast,” the man said, before walking away. As the night wore on, Sikaripara police station realised it had also lost Havildar Mohammad Shahim.
Niranjan Prasad Yadav, who was driving the bus under which the IED went off, escaped without any bullet injuries. “I saw the magistrate’s vehicle (the Tata Magic, which the Maoists shot at) ahead of me topple over. Immediately after that, I felt my bus rising in the air. As it came down, I lost consciousness. When I came to, I heard gunfire all around. I ran without looking back. I must have run two kilometres to the Rajbandh CRPF camp,” Yadav said.
Hiralal Pal, an assistant sub-inspector at Town police station, whose haunting photo inside the wrecked vehicle was published by The Indian Express on Friday, said he had escaped because the Maoists took him for dead.
“I was unconscious after the blast. Some Maoists came near me. They were only shooting policemen. Someone lying next to me told them I was already dead,” he said.
Subodh Kumar Mistry, headmaster of a middle school in Seraiyahat, said the Maoists had taken away his money but left an ATM card behind. “For a long time after the attack, I heard someone who said he was Amit Kumar, crying for help. He was saying he was badly injured. He became silent later, I think he died,” Mistry said.