| The hostages inside the hospital
Suri, Sept. 4: Dinner over, most of the patients in the male surgical ward had turned in for the night as usual in the sub-divisional hospital of Suri, the district headquarters of Birbhum, bordering Jharkhand.
A few visitors who had stayed beyond visiting hours were bidding goodbye when the boom of an exploding bomb signalled that it would be a night like never before. Four persons, pistols cocked in their hands and bombs strung around their waists, stormed in around 8.15 pm and overpowered the National Volunteer Force sentry at the entrance.
They immediately pulled out four patients and the husband of the nurse on duty who was recuperating in the ward from their beds. Along with the sentry, they dragged them to a corner and strapped bombs to their waists.
The hostages secured, they fanned out among the beds in search of Sadananda Mondal and Haradhan Roy, who were admitted to the hospital a few days ago with bullet injuries sustained when a gang had attacked them. As soon as the youths spotted Haradhan, they burst a bomb and fired several rounds inside the ward, sending everybody cowering. In the melee, the raiders left with one of their quarries.
Only Tiger Singh stayed behind with the hostages. Dressed in a black-and-white striped shirt, black jeans, sneakers and a yellow cap, Tiger kept pacing up and down the ward, between the rows of beds.
The loud noises drew nearby residents to the hospital even as Suri police station was informed that something serious was afoot.
The police arrived around 9 pm and surrounded the hospital. Some of them tried to enter, but had to run for cover as Tiger hurled bombs and fired from inside.
After assessing the situation, superintendent of police Akhil Roy called out to Tiger to give himself up, assuring that he will ensure no harm would come to him. He tried his best to get Tiger talking after, police sources said, arranging for tea laced with sleeping pills that he would give Tiger if he was allowed in.
But Tiger did not walk into his trap.
At this point, local Trinamul Congress leader Babin Dutta suddenly strode into the hospital to negotiate with Tiger. As he reached the ward, a hail of bullets greeted him, injuring him in his leg and stomach. He was admitted to the same hospital.
While attention was riveted on Babin, a patient, Joydeb Pal, emerged from the hospital. He had escaped after convincing Tiger that he needed to use the toilet. “I was the one who was asked to tear up the sheets that Tiger used to strap the explosives on the hostages,” he told reporters.
Soon additional forces, including jawans of the Rapid Action Force and Special Combat Force, arrived. As they took up position, policemen struggled to control the surging crowd of thousands who had gathered on a plot outside the gate of the emergency ward to witness “police action”. The fire brigade was kept on standby.
Gautam Chakraborty, IG, western range, now took control and tried to establish contact with Tiger. Ignoring his pleas to come out of the ward, an agitated Tiger shouted that Sadananda be handed over to him. “I won’t spare Sadananda. He has killed my father, my brother. I will die, but I will kill him before that,” he kept screaming in Bengali.
As Chakraborty began negotiating with him, Tiger’s demands became clear — hand over Sadananda, whom he did not seem to know by face, provide a vehicle and send Trinamul leader Sunil Mahato to escort them to safety.
Mahato said he did not know Tiger. He suspected that Tiger had called for him as he had admitted Haradhan and Sadananda to hospital.
Early this morning, Tiger released two hostages — the nurse’s husband and a visitor, Bikash Chatterjee. Bikash had come to visit his father Trilochan in the ward and got caught in the hostage drama. He said that unable to bear the tension through the night, he broke down in the morning. Tiger took pity on him and let him go.
Hospital sources said that soon after, Sadananda, who was inside the ward, tried to flee. Tiger opened fire and he slumped to the ground. He triumphantly started shouting that he had avenged his father’s killing.
The police suddenly began an operation to force him out and Tiger was hit in the chin. Realising that his game was up, Tiger threw out his 9-mm pistol and some live bombs in surrender. Police moved in, secured the ward and rushed Tiger for surgery.