Some suffer from mental disorders, disability

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The wife of one of the three Santals killed in the 2016 police atrocities in the Sandalwood village of Shahebganj-Bagdafarm became psychologically disabled while many injured people became physically disabled.

The Santals injured with bullet shards lodged inside their bodies initially complained of excruciating pain, but failed to realize it could lead to physical disability.

The mental consequences borne by the trauma of the police atrocities were slow to manifest, however, as they visibly emerged five years after the incident, with the investigation still ongoing.

“What comes to us regarding the mental consequences of the type of atrocities suffered by the Santals of Gaibandha is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Bidhan Ranjan Roy Podder, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Atrocities have become relentless sources of trauma and stress, the root of all mental problems and many physical problems, he said.

Shyamal Hembrom, 45, was one of three killed in the police attack.

His wife, Sonamoni Kispotta, became psychologically disabled five years after the attack.

Sonamoni, 40, living with his parents in Rohonpur in Chapainawabganj, suddenly starts packing several times a day to leave.

She wants to go but where she never tells anyone.

She needs to be restrained.

“Only families know how great the loss is when their loved ones become physically disabled or mentally unstable, especially at such a young age,” said Philemon Baske, chair of the Shahebganj-Bagdafarm Bhumi Uddhar committee.

The entire community of Santal is clearly in mental distress because the attackers who looted the houses in Sandalwood before setting them on fire were never brought to justice.

The community is anxious and depressed by the government’s latest plan to build an export processing zone on the controversial lands.

Overwhelmed by multiple cases, which the Santal minority claim to be false and destined to take them away from their struggle to reclaim their ancestral land, the poor Santals cannot afford treatment for their health problems.

One of the injured Sandals, Sobhan Murmu, complained that shards stuck in his reproductive organ left him helpless.

“My chest and reproductive organ are filled with bullet shards, just below the skin,” Sobhan said, squeezing an apparently round, hard object just under the skin below his chest. The splinter slides under the skin.

With his hands shaking, apparently a consequence of the shards inside his body, Sobhan, a tall, thin man, took off his shirt to show other places bearing the shards.

The 40-year-old man with keen eyes then said he had become helpless after the attack.

Dizziness, head spinning, constant headaches, and difficulty breathing are some of the constant issues that Sobhan and 31 others with gunshot wounds live with.

Dwijen Tudu, however, has suffered more than many of his peers as he lost his left eye to the atrocities and carries shrapnel all over his body, starting with his head.

Dwijen, the father of three school-going sons and the son of a mother with a stroke, cannot stay outside for long in the sun.

His wife, Olivia Hembrom, now works as a farm laborer.

“None with shrapnel in the body can work,” Dwijen said.

As the impacts of climate change make the summer in Bangladesh increasingly hot, the retirement time for injured Sandals is expected to increase in the years to come.

“Metal shards from rubber bullets cannot penetrate deep into the body and heat up quickly under the sun,” said Zulfiqur Rahman Khan, professor of general surgery at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.

Caught in the crosshairs, he said, a victim can have hundreds of shards lodged in their body and are likely to live with them for the rest of their life.

“The shrapnel lodged in the body definitely causes physical disability,” Zulfiqur said.

Surgery can remove fragments from a body, but the process is painful for victims as they may need to have multiple surgeries to remove hundreds of fragments, doctors said.

Bursts lodged in the testicles could also make people helpless, they said.

Majhi Soren, 75, another victim of police abuses, has been suffering from fever for three months and urinating yellow fluid, the cause of which no one knows.

“It is very painful to see loved ones suffering so much in the last days of their lives,” said Sunny Soren, wife of 60-year-old Majhi.

Majhi, with many shards in his body, is unlikely to seek treatment as his wife’s income does not allow him to provide food for them twice a day most of the time.

They were both denied assistance under the Social Safety Net for Seniors program.

Around 2,000 Sandals and 500 Bengali families became the target of police atrocities on November 6, 2016 after attempting to reclaim their ancestral lands acquired for the cultivation of sugar cane about seven decades ago.

More than 1,842 acres were acquired on the condition that the owners reclaim the land if the Rangpur-Mohimaganj sugar mill closed. The sugar refinery ceased operations in 2004.

Police atrocities killed three Santals and injured 32 others, mostly Santals.


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