Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader and councillor of Kalimpong Barun Bhujel, under arrest since June, died at the SSKM hospital in Kolkata in the early hours of Wednesday. He was 40. Doctors at the hospital said he had chronic liver problem and pancreatitis. Businesses in Kalimpong remained shut as news of the death spread although the rest of the Hills was largely peaceful. GJM chief Bimal Gurung, in a purported audio message, blamed “police torture” and called for protests in the Hills, responding to which the Gorkha Yuva Morcha, youth wing of GJM, called a day-long strike on Thursday. Bhujel’s family, too, alleged that he was not given treatment on time.
“When he was brought here, his condition was very bad and was admitted straight to the ITU. Postmortem is being done,” said Manimoy Bandpadhyay, medical superintendent of SSKM hospital. Bhujel, the Kalimpong ward 16 councillor, was arrested on June 16 in connection with violence in the Hills during the 104-day long strike demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland. He was considered close to Gurung, who is currently absconding.
“He (Bhujel) was suffering from different ailments for a long time. He was admitted first in a hospital in Siliguri and then taken to SSKM Hospital,” said a senior police officer. Bhujel’s family was informed of his death at around 2.45 am. He is survived by wife and two children.
“There was a delay in treatment. In jail, he kept in complaining about his ill health but authorities did not pay heed. Then he was admitted to a hospital in Siliguri, where too only painkillers were given,” said Bharat Bhujel, Barun’s father, speaking to The Indian Express. “Later when his condition deteriorated he was transferred to SSKM Hospital in Kolkata. There we got to know that he had developed several ailments including pancreatitis. For the last few days he was under ventilator. Had he been treated at the proper time he would have not died.” “Although he was a political prisoner, he was never treated like one. There were lapses in treatment and delay. They arrested my brother in a false case in the first place,” said Biren Bhujbel, brother of the deceased.
A condolence meeting and prayer meeting was held at Dambar Chowk in Kalimpong. “Our brother Barun was one of the first to be arrested by police from Kalimpong. I mourn his death and respect his supreme sacrifice for the fight for Gorkhaland. I share my condolences to his family members. It was police torture which ultimately led to his death,” claims Gurung’s purported audio message. “I call up on all Gorkha brothers and sisters to hit the streets in Darjeeling Kalimpong, Kurseong, Terai and Dooars. Gorkhas all over should protest against such human rights violations. I appeal to everyone to observe a day of mourning and shut down.” Human rights organisations in the state like Bandimukti Committee and Association for Protection of Democratic Rights demanded a probe into the matter.