The Case of the Missing Saint
Gopal Das was last seen at a hospital in Dehradun on December 5
On December 17 a mass of Indian Youth Congress volunteers and workers joined hands in a candle light march to India Gate with Irom Sharmila, the ‘Iron Lady’ of Manipur, and with two grieving parents from Rishikesh. Their cause was to demand information in the case of a missing saint.
Sant Gopal Das, a lanky bearded man in his 30s active in the movement against industrial projects on the Ganga basin went missing on December 6. The Ganga movement is anyway besieged, most recently with the death of GD Agarwal, the renowned activist and professor who brought the movement to the forefront.
Gopal Das, who had been on a fast unto death for over 110 days, isn’t the first in the cause to go missing. But different narratives persist about his disappearance, which follows his being shunted from hospital to hospital, and the eerie last moments that he was seen.
The youth wing of the Congress which organised the march also published a press release, boldly claiming to ‘seek information from BJP Government and AIIMS Rishikesh’ about Das’s whereabouts.
Justifying their stand, Indian Youth Congress national spokesperson Amrish Pandey said, ‘It’s been a few weeks that Sant Gopal Das ji went missing from the AIIMS ICU and the Centre has hardly given any response. They did not have any response to GD Agarwal’s death either. It’s ironic that PM Modi calls himself “Ganga ka putra” [Ganga’s son] as he hardly seems sensitive about the movement to protect Ganga.’
Pandey said that the central government is ‘neglecting pleas and shutting down voices of people’ participating in the Ganga movement. However, he did not seem to know whether an FIR had been registered in the case. Contacted by The Citizen, the Rishikesh Police Station answered in the negative.
In fact, AIIMS Rishikesh is not directly related to the case at all as from here, Gopal Das was taken to AIIMS Delhi for further treatment. Constant fasting had led to indigestion and a fall in body fluid levels which prompted him to get admitted at AIIMS Rishikesh back in October.
Then, as his acquaintance Bambam Thakur puts it, ‘He was transferred to Delhi as his health was deteriorating. One day, the saint’s assistants and supporters were asked by doctors to wait outside his room for some time. A few hours later, it turned out that the frail saint was being transported in an ambulance to Dehradun, for what seemed to be “further treatment” again.
This sudden transfer without any proper justification on the part of AIIMS Delhi had angered the supporters and proponents of the Ganga movement. In fact, Thakur says that a few of these went to AIIMS Delhi two days ago demanding a proper statement with reasons for why he was transferred, to which AIIMS has yet to respond.
Thakur’s perspective cannot be taken as the gospel truth but it points to the inaccuracies in the Youth Congress’s claims. Pandey later contacted The Citizen again saying they had been confused between the two AIIMS. ‘It has been a few days since our protest but no action has been taken and the Centre is still silent. AIIMS Delhi too has given no response,’ Pandey added.
However, Gopal Das was indeed admitted to the Government Doon Medical College in Dehradun. The Citizen spoke to GDMC medical superintendent Dr KK Tanka who said that Das was brought to the hospital after midnight on December 5, and admitted to Bed 15, Ward 16.
When admitted, according to Tanka, the patient adamantly refused to take any medicines or a drip, despite doctors’ constant attempts. A few policemen were also assigned to guard Ward 16. But for reasons unknown, they were not there on the evening of December 5. Tanka said that CCTV footage from 7 pm to 8 pm reveals a 30 second snippet of Gopal Das walking out of his ward. That was the last anyone has seen of him.
Tanka also mentioned an ‘assistant’ who brought Das to the hospital, and suddenly left the premises a few hours later without giving a reason. When asked about his hospital’s responsibility Tanka said, ‘The man went missing from our hospital so definitely it will and has taken some responsibility. We have even given statements to Delhi Police and Dehradun Police, who had visited us after the incident.’
Sant Gopal Das is still missing. His parents are in Delhi and want a CBI probe into the matter, a demand the Youth Congress has echoed. AIIMS Delhi has yet to state whether it was indeed involved in orchestrating this ‘elaborate case of transferring and taking Gopal Das forcefully,’ in the words of Bambam Thakur.
Where is the saint now? Only time will tell.