The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sweeper death too insignificant to care

Calcutta, Oct. 21: Santosh Hela, the sweeper, died as he lived — unknown to the world.

While relatives were preparing Santosh’s body for his final journey to the crematorium from the decrepit sweepers’ quarters in Howrah’s Belilious Lane, his young wife, Urmila, broke down. “What happened, for god’s sake, someone tell me what happened,” she said, in between uncontrollable sobs.

Their only child, three-year-old Nandini, drew close to her and picked up her pallu. “What do we tell her, we don’t even know what happened,” said Baburam, trying to calm his inconsolable daughter-in-law.

Between October 19, when the empty bed was first noticed, and early this morning, when the corpse was found next to a garbage dump, his relatives have no clue to what happened to Santosh.

The two agencies, the Howrah State General Hospital and Howrah police station, which are under an obligation to offer a cogent explanation are not telling. Neither do they seem to know what happened to Santosh in the past 48 hours, nor are they making an effort to find out — they have realised all too quickly that the poor, marginalised family cannot raise a hue and cry.

“You people are too much,” said S.. Kanjilal, investigating officer in Howrah police station. “He was a sweeper and you know these sweepers are habitual drunkards and do irresponsible things in a state of intoxication. There are many pressing cases to tackle, we cannot spend time chasing an insignificant one.”

Kanjilal provides a peep into the working of the mind of the hospital authorities also. Together, they put forward three arguments — Santosh’s drinking habit, his social station and assumed unpredictability associated with the behaviour of one fond of alcohol — when pressed for an explanation to Santosh’s mysterious disappearance.

After an autopsy this evening, investigators hinted that Santosh had probably walked out of the ward in search of alcohol, found the supplies in the neighbourhood and, inebriated, “must have had tripped badly which led to his death”. They pointed out that a deep wound had been found on his head.

Neither the investigators nor the hospital authorities can explain how Santosh, who was admitted on Friday with acute diarrhoea and fever, walk out 24 hours later from the male medicine ward on the second floor without any help.

“You know how these drunkards behave,” was the standard line. After handing over the body to the family, investigators also indicated that the death was no mystery and that they were closing the case.

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