Two staff nurses tried to be everywhere at once – lost count of saline drips running out and had to pacify angry crowds. Two other colleagues on duty had to be in the labour room and operation theatre, where the only duty doctor of the night was stationed.
This was Dumka, the sub-capital of Jharkhand, the assembly constituency of chief minister Hemant Soren, whose people sent his father – a three-time-chief minister – to the Lok Sabha seven times. And there were two nurses with the bare essentials to patch up the 10 injured and send them on their way to hospitals at least five to eight hours away, on a day violence was anticipated. “Today was better; we have four nurses instead of three,” said one of the nurses.
When the CPI-Maoist struck at the heart of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha on polling day, attacking two vehicles – killing five policemen and three individuals returning after polling near Sikaripara’s Sarsajor village – more politicians turned up at the Sadar Hospital than there were staff nurses tending to the 10 injured. Chief Minister Hemant Soren, former CM Babulal Marandi – also a candidate from Dumka and the BJP’s candidate Sunil Soren went to offer commiserations.
They all arrived to boos from an angry crowd and left, but it was an absence that was noticed. “Shibu Soren kaha hai?” asked the crowd that rushed into the hospital at 11.55 PM. They were angry that the saline drip for the driver of the Tata Magic, one of the two vehicles attacked, may not last his five-hour-trip to Dhanbad.
This was the second major attack in the Santhal Pargana – previously considered resistant to the growth of Maoists – in under a year. Dumka, Pakur and Deoghar were added to the MHA’s scheme for LWE areas only in April 2012; Sahibganj, Godda and Jamtara, the three other districts that comprise the six-district Santhal Pargana, are the only districts not considered LWE-affected. On July 2 last year, when Pakur’s Superintendent of Police Amarjit Balihar was killed en route Pakur in Dumka’s Kathikund block – adjacent Sikaripara – the police largely believed it was a one-off incident of a police officer paying the price for letting down his guard: the state police have always thought that the Maoists’ conception of the Santhal Pargana as an “Expansion Zone” was a bit far-fetched.
But, as an exasperated villager said outside the Sadar police station on Thursday night, “Dumka is not safe anymore. They seem to be everywhere.” Reporters covering LWE incidents frequently hear an anecdote about how the police had surrounded a top Maoist leader and how they had to let him go because someone in the JMM made a call. The story cannot be substantiated – it takes place in a different forest in each retelling – but speaks volumes about the relationship between political parties and the Maoists in the state. Now, the Maoists have dared take on the JMM in their own home.
When asked about the entry of Maoists into the region, a JMM leader once told this reporter, “Who are these Maoists? These are our boys. They are JMM workers by day and roam with a gun by night.” The arrogance being that every Santhal is a JMM supporter. However, with the increasingly-weakening party turning a blind eye towards agitations against big coal-based projects, even actively promoting them, politically active individuals will increasingly see an alternative in the Maoists. This newspaper wrote recently that Babulal Marandi wants to end the JMM and replace it with his own party. The Maoists might want to have their own say in the matter.
At around 11.30 PM, Rekha Rajak sat inside an ambulance and wailed. “They loaded him on to this vehicle and asked us to go to Ranchi [400 km away]. I have no money for fuel; I am worried the driver will abandon us midway,” she said. This newspaper had met her son Shivshankar Rajak earlier at the Sikaripara police station, who said his father Ram Pratap Rajak, an official of the Industries Department, had called his mother’s mobile phone at around 6 PM, asking for water. Help came at around 8.30 PM. Ram Pratap told his family he had been shot in the foot when in fact he had taken a bullet to the head, too.
Shoulders slumped at the Sikaripara police station when news came through that Assistant Sub Inspector R.N. Singh’s body was spotted at the encounter spot. A young constable kept asking a colleague, who had returned after a search and rescue for the injured, whether a friend had made it. “I don’t know, it’s too dark, there are bodies all around the place. I counted eight. Their faces had been blackened by the blast,” he said, before walking away. When the dead were finally taken away in an effort that lasted through the night, Sikaripara police station realised it had also lost Havildar Mohammad Shahim.
Niranjan Prasad Yadav, who was driving the bus – under which an IED went off, unlike the Tata Magic, which was shot at – escaped without any bullet injuries. “I saw the Magistrate’s vehicle ahead of me topple over. Next thing I know, the bus was lifted. I lost consciousness when it came down. I woke to the sound of guns going off and ran without looking back. I must have run two kilometres to reach the Rajbandh CRPF camp.
“I was unconscious after the blast. Some Maoists came near me – they were only shooting at policemen – but someone lying next to me told them I was already dead,” said Hiralal Pal, a constable at the Town police station.
Subodh Kumar Mistry, headmaster of a middle school in Seraiyahat, said that the Maoists had taken away his money but returned an ATM card: “For a long time after the attack, someone called Amit Kumar was crying for help, saying he was badly injured. He became silent later; I think he died.”