Calcutta, Oct. 22: “Khana nahi chahiye, mujhe insaaf de (I don’t care about food, give me justice)”.
Urmila Hela sat for eight hours in her search for justice within a day of husband Santosh’s funeral. She waited and waited in expectation of justice from people who forgot to offer her — and her three-year-old daughter Nandini and elderly mother-in-law Bhikini — food or water.
The grieving women sat huddled in a corner as leader after leader of the Trinamul Congress singed the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government with their fiery speeches that narrated how Santosh’s body had been found next to a garbage dump at Howrah State General Hospital where he had been admitted.
Twenty-year-old Urmila cried some more as she listened.
After a night through most of which they grieved over the death of the 27-year-old breadwinner, the three women watched from noon to dusk a parade of Trinamul heavyweights — Pankaj Banerjee, Shovondeb Chattopadhyay, Saugata Roy and Ambika Banerjee.
The three were the trophy on display at the meeting a few yards from the hospital where Santosh first went missing for two days and then was found dead. When the show was over, they were left to go home alone.
The day began differently. Mamata Banerjee’s men reached the Hela family’s decrepit sweepers’ quarters on Howrah’s Belilious Lane early in the morning to escort it to the meeting.
Having returned from the crematorium late in the evening, the family hadn’t slept much. The sudden appearance of Trinamul activists took it by surprise. “We could not say no because they dominate our area,” a family member said.
Baburam, Santosh’s father, stayed home, citing ill health. Relatives said he did not want to join a political rally. Brother Chandan did not go either.
Clad in a white dhoti and chadar, Chandan said: “They were taken away to the meeting early in the morning. I am very sad at the death of my brother and decided to stay at home.”
The women possibly did not enjoy the choice. Or, maybe, Urmila was really expecting justice this way. At least she said she “wanted justice from the party that has brought her here”.
A grieving wife and mother stared at curious onlookers who had read about Santosh’s death and had flocked to the meeting to catch a glimpse of the family.
“Kya bole hum. Party ke larke le aaye hain (What can I say, the party people brought us here),” Bhikini said.
Tired of sitting in her mother’s lap for hours, little Nandini started crying. She was hungry. Pankaj Banerjee, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, was going on about “CPM atrocities”.
A neighbour at the meeting bought Nandini a guava, which she started munching.
Food may have been the farthest from their minds, but her mother and grandmother didn’t have a bite during the time they spent at the meeting.
They would have eaten after returning home on their own, but the hunger for justice would still be eating Urmila.
She should remember that, after being raped, deaf-and-mute Dipali Basak was adopted by Trinamul and Mamata brought her to Writers’ Buildings as a symbol of atrocities in the CPM raj. There were promises of support — financial and otherwise. Dipali now lives in a one-room shack, surviving mostly on alms.
There are other examples, too.
Yesterday, some officials of Bhattacharjee’s administration had dismissed Santosh’s disappearance from the hospital bed followed by death as the natural end of an alleged drunkard.
“He was a drunk and had probably walked out of the hospital on his own,” S.. Kanjilal, the police officer investigating the incident, had said.
Prabhakar Chatterjee, the director of health services, had added: “It seems he was drunk and must have walked out.”
It was as if this were enough reason for an end to the responsibility of the hospital and the government that runs it towards Santosh.
Justice — from any which side — will be difficult for Urmila to get.