A painful 200km bus journey of a father with his son’s dead body stirs outrage in West Bengal

A man who couldn't afford to pay Rs 8,000 for an ambulance to carry his dead son home, made a 200km journey on a bus with the baby's body in West Bengal.

A painful 200km bus journey of a father with his son's dead body stirs outrage in West Bengal

A man’s 200km-long journey in a crowded bus with his child’s dead body in a bag has stunned many in West Bengal where the incident took place on Sunday, May 14th. The man, Asim Debsharma, a migrant worker from Kaliaganj, Uttar Dinajpur district, travelled home from Siliguri with his six-month-old son’s dead body after he had spent all his money on his twin children’s treatment at North Bengal Medical College Hospital (NBMCH).

Debsharma didn’t have Rs 8,000 that the ambulance drivers were charging to carry his son’s body to his village. The twins reportedly suffered from septicaemia and pneumonia and were undergoing treatment at the paediatric intensive care unit at NBMCH in Siliguri. While one of the twins was cured and sent home, the condition of the other deteriorated, forcing Debsharma to stay back at the hospital while his wife returned with the other child.

On the night of Saturday, May 13th, the baby died. A shattered Debsharma reportedly ran pillar to post to get an ambulance to carry the child’s dead body. He even called the helpline number 102 to get an ambulance. However, he claimed that the ambulance drivers demanded Rs 8,000, which was too much for him as he had no money left after the treatment of the twins. Debsharma works in Kerala and returned home a few days ago.

When he failed to get an ambulance, he wrapped the dead body of his baby and took it in his bag. He boarded a bus from Siliguri and reached his village hours later. His child was buried in the backyard of his house. The incident stirred outrage in northern West Bengal, where the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is on the back foot due to the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay said that the situation shouldn’t have happened but didn’t clarify anything regarding the demand of Rs 8,000 by ambulance drivers, which forced Debsharma to carry the dead body in a public transport vehicle. She said there could have been a shortage due to local issues.

“Small babies are often carried by family members, and they don’t ask for an ambulance. It depends on the family members’ wish on how they will carry the baby”, Bandopadhyay said. As Bandopadhyay also heads the state’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Opposition has trained guns at her for the government’s alleged nonchalant attitude.

Although the state government tried to downplay the incident, the optics of a man carrying his dead son’s body made the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) take a suo motu cognisance of the issue. Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, the chairperson of the WBHRC, has reportedly asked for a report on the incident from the state’s health secretary on May 31st.

Following the incident, the BJP plunged into the fray to stir the murky water. The Uttar Dinajpur district’s BJP president Basudeb Sarkar visited Debsharma’s house and handed over Rs 50,000 from the party’s funds. Following this, on Monday, May 15th, the Subdivisional Officer (SDO) of Raiganj, Kingshuk Maity handed over Rs 2,000 to the family members under the “Samobyathi” scheme. The SDO informed that the family will also be provided with cashless cards issued by the state’s health insurance scheme Swasthya Sathi.

In January 2023, a man named Ram Prasad Dewan of the Nagardangi area of Kranti block, Jalpaiguri district, also started a 50km-long journey by foot, carrying his mother’s dead body on his shoulders. Dewan too couldn’t afford an ambulance. The ambulance service providers reportedly asked for Rs 3,000 from him to ferry his mother’s dead body.

Debsharma’s painful incident, a few months after the ordeal of Dewan, highlights a major lacuna in West Bengal’s public health system, for which critics blame Bandopadhyay’s government. Though in both cases the hospital authorities have denied any knowledge regarding the unavailability of ambulances to ferry the dead bodies, there have been accusations that the government has not fixed and publicised the rates of ambulance services.

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