“There was a delay in treatment. In jail, he kept on complaining about his ill health but authorities did not pay heed,” the GJM leader’s father has said.
New Delhi: Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leader from Kalimpong Barun Bhujel, who had been in the custody of the West Bengal police since June, died at a hospital in Kolkata in the early hours of October 25. The death triggered a day-long bandh in Kalimpong town.
Bhujel, GJM councilor of Kalimpong and considered to be close to the party’s top leader Bimal Gurung, was arrested on charges of arson and rioting on June 16, during the 104-day strike in the three sub-divisions of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland. He was since lodged in Siliguri jail and was taken to a local hospital recently following a deterioration in his health. With no sign of improvement, he was thereafter shifted to Kolkata.
Forty-year-old Bhujel, also an elected member of the Kalimpong municipality, is survived by his wife and two children.
Media reports quoting doctors at the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata said Bhujel had chronic liver problem and pancreatitis. “When he was brought here, his condition was very bad and was admitted straight to the ITU,” Manimoy Bandpadhyay, medical superintendent of the hospital told local reporters.
However, both the GJM and Bhujel’s family alleged that “custodial torture” and negligence of the state police lead to his death.
Gurung, who has been in hiding since August end following police raids in various places looking for him, reportedly said in a video run at a condolence meeting held in Kalimpong on October 25, “It was police torture which finally led to his death.”
Bhujel’s father Bharat Bhujel, a retired police officer, told Indian Express, “There was a delay in treatment. In jail, he kept on 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. 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 on a ventilator. Had he been treated at the proper time he would have not died.”
In a Facebook post, Darjeeling Chronicle quoted his family members as accusing the state police of “slapping fabricated cases against him, even when he was in police custody because of which his bail plea continued to be denied despite his rapidly deteriorating health”.
Local human rights organisations such as the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and Bandimukti Committee have demanded a probe into Bhujel’s death.
The 104-day-long strike was called off by GJM on September 26, bringing normalcy to the Darjeeling district.