‘Took Only A WhatsApp SOS’: When Manipur BJP MLA, Others Helped Teen For Surgery In Delhi

When Bisoya Loitongbam read an SOS message in a WhatsApp group about a Manipur teen from an economically weak family, who needed surgery in Delhi to remove 30 metal pellets lodged in his shoulder, she immediately decided to help.

But there was one problem – the cost of the surgery was unknown, and other details like who will accompany the teen, and where will they stay were sketchy.

Kishan, 17, was shot with a pellet gun from point-blank range by the police during a massive protest by students in the state capital Imphal in September 2023 against the killing of a girl and a man from the Meitei community, allegedly by Kuki insurgents in the hills.

Ms Loitongbam, 42, who heads the massively successful ’10BedICU’ project founded by former Aadhaar chief technology officer (CTO) Srikanth Nadhamuni, reached out to many WhatsApp groups that coordinate relief work for internally displaced people in the state bordering Myanmar. Manipur is yet to see normalcy a year after clashes broke out between the valley-dominant Meitei community and the hill-dominant Kuki-Zo tribes, who share ethnic ties with Myanmar’s Chin people.

“Is there anyone available who can assist Kishan and his family in securing accommodation… Kishan is the young boy who endured 90 pellet gunshots to his shoulder,” Ms Loitongbam wrote in one of the relief coordination groups. She said doctors at Imphal’s Shija Clinic successfully extracted 60 pellets, but could not remove the remaining 30, which led to complications. The doctors then suggested treatment in Delhi.

After making appointments with doctors in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital and RML Hospital, Ms Bisoya booked Imphal-Delhi flight tickets for Kishan and two of his family members. She also gave Rs 15,000 for sundry expenses to the family from her own pocket. But the issue of accommodation remained – till the message for aid reached three-time Manipur BJP MLA Rajkumar Imo Singh.

Mr Singh was busy coordinating teams to install corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets at homes damaged by a strong hailstorm in Imphal valley on Monday. In between directing teams, he saw the message about the teen who needed a surgery in Delhi, and immediately dialled the Manipur Bhavan in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri.

A Manipur Bhavan official hands over Rs 25,000 to Kishan and family members for daily expenses

Mr Singh booked a room at the Bhavan for the teen and his family, and told the officials there not to charge for the room. When the family reached the Bhavan on Wednesday, the officials received them and gave Rs 25,000 sent by Mr Singh for everyday expenses.

“… We will always strive to work for the people irrespective of the circumstances,” Mr Singh said in a post on the microblogging website X, referring to relief work after the hailstorm.

Independent social workers and those associated with non-profits say WhatsApp groups have been very helpful in reaching out to leaders, and coordinating relief work.

Sharing the video where SCPC members/BJP Sagolband are working tirelessly for the people by distributing CGI sheets to the affected people of Sagolband while awaiting the government relief packages. We will always strive to work for the people irrespective of the circumstances. pic.twitter.com/fsN0wvqhTR

— Rajkumar Imo Singh (Modi Ka Parivaar) (@imosingh) May 8, 2024

“It becomes even more effective when leaders like Imo Singh respond in no time to people’s request on social media or other tech platforms. We live in a time of fast information flow. If you don’t react, what is the use of fast communication?” said a social worker who looks after a relief camp housed in a school in Imphal’s Samurou neighbourhood.

Ms Loitongbam’s ’10BedICU’ project is being run in many states and also supported by state governments; it creates intensive care unit (ICU) infrastructure in rural and smaller government hospitals.

She had also donated Rs 1 lakh in May 2023 – the month ethnic violence broke out – to treat a baby born with Hirschsprung disease, a rare birth defect in which some nerve cells are missing in the large intestine. The baby, however, died during treatment and her parents, who are from the Kuki tribe, had to leave Imphal.

Ms Loitongbam is among 12 leaders – five of them women – selected for this year’s Chevening Gurukul Fellowship for Leadership and Excellence, hosted by the University of Oxford. The others include two Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, and senior bureaucrats who work with the central government.

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