Kolkata: A viral video and a Union minister sharing his personal details on Twitter have left a 24-year-old fearing for his life, and traumatised to the point that he spent a night on the streets of Kolkata after not being allowed into his apartment and “threatened by random people”.
Somnath Das was admitted to the M.R. Bangur Hospital in Kolkata as a suspected coronavirus case. But Das tested negative and was discharged Tuesday.
During his stay, however, he shot a video that showed a couple of dead bodies lying unattended for hours in the Covid-19 ward of the hospital where he had been kept. The video has since gone viral.
It was shared by senior BJP leaders to target the Mamata Banerjee government but Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Babul Supriyo, also put out Das’ phone number on Twitter.
Speaking to ThePrint, a sobbing Das said ever since Supriyo shared his phone number, he has been hounded by “random people”, who have been calling him and threatening him of “dire consequences”.
“Who gave him (Supriyo) the right to share my details on social media? My privacy has been breached,” Das said. “People are calling and abusing me. I am being threatened with dire consequences.”
Das added that he is from Asansol, Supriyo’s Lok Sabha constituency, but does not personally know the MP.
“He is the Asansol MP but I do not know him, nor do I have his contact. I do not know how my details reached him,” Das said Wednesday night. “I do not know whom to trust. My friends called me to say that police will file several cases against me and my whole life will be wasted. I do not know what wrong I have done. I am neither a BJP member nor I have anything to do with the Trinamool Congress. I am just a common man.”
The Kolkata Police have since clarified in a tweet that they have not booked Das. A senior Kolkata Police officer also told ThePrint Thursday morning that Das was taken back to his apartment late last night. He lives in an apartment complex in North Kolkata.
‘I am being hunted’
Before his ordeal ended late Wednesday night, Das had been hiding out at a subway in Kolkata.
He told ThePrint that he was asked by another patient to hold his phone and narrate the state of the Covid-19 ward, and that he had no clue how the video reached the BJP leaders and went viral.
“I am a resident of Asansol but I live in Kolkata as I am studying here. I have some kidney ailments too and that is why I was taken to hospital for testing. While being there, I thought that it would be proper to shoot a video showing the condition inside the ward and how bodies are lying there unattended with the patients,” he said. “But I did not speak a word against the doctor or the sisters treating us. Moreover, I had no clue how this clip reached social media platforms.”
He added, “I was discharged by the hospital and was asked to be isolated as I am a high-risk patient. But the apartment authority denied my entry.”
Das said he spent the night “on the streets” Tuesday, adding he was worried for his father, “a patient of hypertension” who had fallen sick.
He said he roamed around aimlessly in the city Wednesday, eating only a “piece of cake” from a roadside shop.
A petrified Das had stopped taking any call from unknown numbers. He had answered ThePrint’s call after several attempts, and the police said he did not even take calls when the local police station tried to reach him.
“I might have done something really wrong, but I did not have any ill intention. I just wanted to highlight the mismanagement inside, but I never sent the video to anyone,” Das said. “And the phone in which the video was shot is not mine. I do not know why they shared my name and number on Twitter.”
Throughout his phone call with ThePrint, Das repeatedly said he felt like “committing suicide”. “All my dreams are shattered now, I do not think I have any future. Police will pick me anytime, I am feeling like ending my life,” he said.
Caught in political one-upmanship
There has been a game of political one-upmanship that the BJP and the TMC have been indulging in since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the Covid-19 pandemic situation making things worse.
Before he shared Das’ details, Supriyo had used the video to target the Mamata government over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
He also did not let up after the Kolkata Police clarified that there was no FIR against Das, even taking offence that the police didn’t address him as ‘Honble’ minister.
Good u came up with a statement but, while we appreciate the work done by the Police Force in this entire country & respect your selfless service, it gives us no reason to believe u ! To know why I say that, search for answers in your own documented history of TMC-‘DoloDashness’ https://t.co/pgeimYT2MQ
— Babul Supriyo (@SuPriyoBabul) April 22, 2020
ThePrint tried to reach Supriyo but he did not respond to texts and calls. This report will be updated when he replies.
Mamata govt bans mobile phones in hospitals
Within hours of Das’ video going viral, the state government issued an instruction banning mobile phones in earmarked Covid-19 hospitals. “Since mobile phones can be a potential source of spreading COVID 19 infection, no one will be allowed to carry, possess or use mobile phones inside the Covid hospitals in the State,” the order said. “This applies to all persons inside the hospital, whether patients or staff on duty. The deposit of patients’ mobile phones may be taken and a receipt may be given to them. However, to ensure they have a communication channel to the hospital administration, intercom facilities may be provided in the wards.”
“The contact number of the control room or the Hospital Superintendent or manager should be publicised prominently among the patients. Also, landline arrangements with STD calling be kept ready in case the patient needs to make a call or receives a call from outside, it added. “Staff on duty should be told of the restrictions on the use and carrying of mobile phones inside the wards/ treatment areas. While implementing this, take all measures for especially ensuring that the patients need for communication with hospital authorities is attended to with due priority.”
Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha confirmed to the media that phones are banned in Covid-19 hospitals. “Mobile phones are primary tools that carry infection,” he said at a press conference in Nabanna Wednesday. “That is why the hospitals now do not allow phones inside ICU and ICCU. This is a general government rule.”
ICMR guidelines, however, do not list mobile phones as potential carriers of the virus.