There were all the signs of fire searing his skin. Like all other survivors of burn incidents caused by petrol bomb explosions, he expected assistance to be made available to him in order for him to recover and return to some semblance of a normal life.
But was he aware that his religion would be an impediment to his coming by help from the government itself? Did he know that discrimination practised at the level of the government in a secular country would affect burn victims too?
But that is precisely what Niranjon Singha experienced on Monday. A 30 year-old mechanic, Niranjan was severely burnt when a petrol bomb was hurled on 22 January at the motor workshop where he was employed. The workshop is situated in Burikona, Chandipur, Sylhet. As much as 43 per cent of his body was singed by flames. He has been in the Intensive Care Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital since.
It was quite natural for Niranjon to expect that he would be a recipient of financial aid from Matiur Rahman, Minister for Religious Affairs, who distributed an amount of Tk. 12,500 from the Zakat fund of the ministry to 34 out of 52 burn victims during his visit to the DMCH Burn Unit on Monday. For Niranjon, it was not that he did not receive any money because the minister or his team ran out of funds. He did not get help from the ministry because he happened to be a Hindu.
Representatives of the ministry asked burn victims of the unit undergoing treatment to take their portions of the amount. Some among the victims declined to take up the offer since the money was coming from the Zakat Fund.
When Niranjon's father Babu Sena Singha, strolling around the administrative floor, heard of the funds being distributed, he expected to receive some for his son. But frustration set in when he discovered that his son was not entitled to the money because he was a Hindu.
"I feel so sad I didn't get any help for my only son, who is the family bread winner," a dejected Babu Sena Singha told this correspondent.
Besides Niranjon, three other burn victims did not receive any funds despite their entreaties.
When asked about such discriminatory treatment of burn victims, Rafiqul Islam, deputy director of the Zakat Fund of the Religious Affairs Ministry, replied that there was no system of distributing Zakat Fund money to any non-Muslim.
When asked about the other three victims, he said money would be arranged for them later.
Niranjon, who earlier got Tk 45,000 from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Health Minister Mohammad Nasim, told this correspondent that he had used the money to meet other expenses.
Niranjon Shingha's plight raises the very important question of whether the Religious Affairs Ministry caters to a particular religious denomination or is meant to serve all religious groups without discrimination. It certainly has funds, and not just the Zakat segment of it, that it can distribute to non-Muslims. In Niranjon's case, the nagging question remains: why was such insensitivity displayed toward him, when others were getting the money and he was humiliated only because his religious beliefs were different?
It may be noted that altogether 45 people have succumbed to burns and scores grievously wounded in the violence taking place since the BNP-sponsored nationwide blockade was called on Jan 5.