Ramaji Sharma, 47, was declared dead the moment he was brought to Gopalganj Sadar Hospital Tuesday evening, among the first of 16 who died after they had reportedly drunk “spurious mahua liquor”. At the hospital, a police officer asked his family to rush home without the customary postmortem, the family alleged.
“We were asked to seat the body on a motorcycle as if he was still alive, as if he had been referred to another hospital,” alleged Rajkishore Manjhi, one of Ramaji’s relatives at Harkhua village, where Ramaji worked as a carpenter.
“The hospital should have asked us to stay back for the postmortem,” Manjhi said. “Only when more deaths were reported did police come to our home at 4 am Wednesday and take the body for postmortem.”
Parma Mahto of Nonia Toli was cremated without a postmortem. “My grandfather was the first person to die in the liquor tragedy,” said Mahto’s grandson Deepak Kumar, 14. “The moment doctors at Sadar Hospital found him dead Tuesday morning, we were asked to leave and our family had to cremate the body without the hospital conducting a postmortem.”
Of the first 13 dead — the last three died Thursday — five were cremated without a postmortem, with most families alleging that the administration had “discouraged it”. Manjhi alleged the police and local administration had been indirectly pressuring relatives and neighbours not to reveal that Ramaji had been drinking.
The Gopalganj district administration, however, said it was indeed investigating allegations of spurious liquor having caused the deaths. “Though we suspected from the very beginning that the deaths could have been because of liquor, we waited for the postmortem reports,” district magistrate Rahul Kumar told The Indian Express.
“These do not show alcohol content, possibly because of the time gap between drinking and death, and vomiting during treatment,” the DM said, “but we have decided to go by the families’ account. We have sent a magistrate to record the statements of those undergoing treatment at Patna Medical College and Hospital. These patients have confirmed they drank liquor at Khajurbani on August 15.”
It was after the DM visited Sadar Hospital at 1.30 am Wednesday that bodies were brought back for postmortem, The Indian Express has found.
Of the first 13 deaths, Harkhua and Nonia Toli reported five each. The families of most of them identified Khajurbani village, a settlement of 60-odd SC Pasi and EBC Lohar families in the middle of Gopalganj town, as a common drinking spot for all of them on the night of August 15. Most of them were habitual drinkers who would get their quota of desi liquor despite prohibition.
The eight postmortem reports mentioned no alcohol content in six of the cases, a “cardiac arrest” in one case and consumption of sulphas in another. Civil surgeon Dr M P Singh refused to go on record whether any of them had drunk liquor. “There has been too much pressure. I am being made a scapegoat. I cannot comment on anything,” Dr Singh said.
Records of patients referred to PMCH showed patient Bandhu Ram mentioned as an “alcoholic” and that he bled from the eyes — a common symptom after drinking spurious liquor.
On Thursday, Battis Mahto died on the way to Gorakhpur, and Nashir Mian and Munna Kumar during treatment.
“We don’t need any postmortem report and even gods to tell us that my son died because he had drunk liquor,” said Shashikant Chouhan, who lost his son Vijay. “Had IMFL been available, my son would have been alive today. I could not convince my son to quit drinking but good quality liquor would not have killed him. Let the government lie and keep its compensation money but tell us the truth. This prohibition is a sham and has taken 16 lives because police have failed to check the flow of spurious liquor.”