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His student dies of Covid, St Stephen’s principal’s lament: ‘blind leaders immune’

On May 25, Jha — a “brilliant student” with “immense potential”, as his teachers described him — died of Covid at a private hospital in Kota, Rajasthan, a death that moved his principal John Varghese to pen an anguished note on the college website.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: May 28, 2021 6:57:05 am
Satyam was part of college Gandhi-Ambedkar Circle.

Satyam Jha had packed in all he could into his 19-year-old world — a first-year BA (Hons) History student of St Stephen’s College, he was a member of the college’s debating society; editor of the History department’s journal Tarikh; a council member of the college’s Gandhi Ambedkar Study Circle; and part of the organising committee of the college’s Students’ Federation of India unit.

On May 25, Jha — a “brilliant student” with “immense potential”, as his teachers described him — died of Covid at a private hospital in Kota, Rajasthan, a death that moved his principal John Varghese to pen an anguished note on the college website.

“The second wave of the pandemic has been heartless in its ruthless rampaging through our country exposing our hollow claims of being prepared, of being one of the largest producers of pharmaceutical products in the world, of even being a civilization that places value on the higher things in life. But if life itself is gone, then wither all these claims? They are merely a futile breath of air. A mere posturing, signifying nothing,” he wrote.

“The claims of belligerent and blind leaders who are immune to the suffering and deaths of simple people also show that we are veering off dangerously to becoming a cruel and insensitive race. How do all those claims of power and importance matter before the death of a loved one? Nothing,” Varghese wrote.

Jha died without being able to step into the campus he worked so hard to get into. With the pandemic shutting down institutions, he had been attending classes from Kota, where his elder brother Shubham had been preparing for his MBBS. Their mother too had moved in with them.

“Around May 8, Satyam developed some low-grade fever. When he started getting breathless, we finally admitted him to NMCH (the government-run New Medical College Hospital) late on May 18,” said Shubham.

As his condition worsened, the family shifted him to the private Sudha Hospital in the city. But as his oxygen levels plummeted, Jha finally died on the morning of May 25. “He had the best immunity of us all; never even got a headache or a cold,” said Shubham, accusing NMCH and Sudha Hospital of negligence.

NMCH Superintendent C S Sushil and Controller Vijay Sardana did not respond to calls and texts. Sudha Hospital director Palkesh Agrawal did not respond, either.

Today, Shubham says his resolve to become a doctor has become stronger than ever. “We don’t know how all this happened; he had no co-morbidities. We had registered on Co-Win for vaccination but couldn’t get a slot,” he said.

Shubham says his brother’s life revolved around books. “While here in Kota, he would just stay inside and read all day. He read a lot, always surrounded himself with books. His room was almost a library. On my birthday, while I would wish for watches or mobile phones, he always wanted books. The only electronic item he ever asked for was a Kindle,” he said.

It was his love for the written word that drew Jha to Marxist literature, say his friends. “He was very inclined towards Communist and Marxist ideas. He was the first person from his batch to become an SFI member. He also recruited other members. We used to organise study circles virtually, he was very active in that as well. I have lost a very kind and compassionate friend. He was well read but humble,” said one of his seniors at Stephen’s, who didn’t want to be identified.

Jha’s family hails from Belur in Howrah, and he completed his schooling from St Xavier’s Collegiate School in Kolkata.

At Stephen’s, Jha’s friend and classmate Avishi Gupta says they hit it off from the start. “He was one of the first few friends I really felt comfortable talking to in college, mainly because he was so kind and helpful. He worked tirelessly to arrange for resources during the pandemic,” she said.

A senior, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he knew Jha from the day he took admission in Stephen’s. “He was a really enthusiastic person. He had incredible academic depth and always wanted to learn more. He was also a very deeply political person. He was very well-read, especially on Marxism, liberation theology and feminist literature,” he said.

Malay Neerav, Head of the History Department at Stephen’s, said Jha’s potential had been clear ever since he saw him at the interview for admissions. “He was outstanding…he had certainly outshone others both in terms of intellectual knowledge and articulation. He was an all-rounder with tremendous potential. It’s a big loss,” he said.

On Thursday, the college paid tributes to Satyam Jha at the virtual morning assembly and the History department suspended classes for the day. Late evening, a candlelight gathering was held in his memory.

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