Out of 60 ambulance drivers only 4 made it to SKIMS till noon on Monday

Many alleged ‘manhandling’, some asked to go back, others hauled to police stations by force

By Dilnaz Boga

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Srinagar, September 17: On Monday when 17 people were killed and over 200 people were injured in the clashes across the Kashmir Valley, only four out of 60 ambulance drivers were able to reach for duty by noon at the Valley’s premium medical facility, Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Soura. The remaining 56 drivers were ‘targeted’ by the police and the troopers and ‘not allowed’ to report to work during the imposition of a strict curfew.

Monday, being the bloodiest day in Kashmir in the last three months since the unrest began, with 17 killed and over 200 injuries, several staff members of the hospital could not make it to the institute because of the strict curfew imposed by the authorities.

Said Dr Syed Amin Tabish, Superintendent of the Institute, “If our staff cannot report to work because of the curfew, the shifts of those who are in the hospital is extended. If a doctor works for eight hours, we extend their shift to 24 hours. What choice do we have?”

Speaking to  one of the four drivers who managed to make his way to the hospital by early in the morning. Abdul Rashid (57), an ambulance driver, said the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel manhandled him on his way to the hospital while picking up hospital staff along the way. “They stopped me at 9 am, pulled me out of the vehicle and tore my curfew pass.

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“The man abused me and struck his rifle butt on the door of the ambulance. I would have been seriously hurt had the

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door not been there. This, despite explaining to him who I was and how it was important for me to get to work.”

He added, “I told him I had doctors with me who needed to be dropped to the hospital and that I was only doing my job, but he didn’t listen. How can we put our lives on the line by stepping out of our homes to do our jobs everyday? If this is the way they will treat us we won’t risk our lives coming to work. I have nine children, who will look after my family if something happens to me?” Rashid’s other colleague was also detained in Ganderbal by the law enforcement authorities.

Rashid said that he’s been driving ambulances for over 20 years. “This has never happened before,” he said. After the CRPF stooped him, Rashid was taken to the police station and held there for an hour, after which he was released. He made it to the hospital after being stopped and questioned several times by groups of forces en route, after he was released.

On Monday, out of 60 drivers only four drivers managed to reach work. Two of the others who had attempted to come to work were not allowed to reach the hospital. “If this continues, the hospital will become non-functional, said Bashir Ahmed (42), another driver.

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He added, “In Magarmal Bagh yesterday, they let one ambulance through and didn’t let my vehicle through. They tore my curfew pass and detained me in the Shahidgad police station. After making several calls to the authorities they let us go. Upon release they caught us again in another area.”

A senior doctor said that this problem could seriously affect the way the hospital functions. “You can see for yourself the conditions under which we operate,” he lamented.

“The paramilitary forces and the police are not ready to listen to us at all. Our safety is only at home. If employees can’t reach, this institute will shut,” Ahmed said.

Rashid also said that it was not only the drivers but also the attendants who accompany the patients who have been targeted. “Forces only let one attendant to go through. If there are three more attendants they make them get off the ambulance and stand on the road. Is this fair?” he asked.

Contributed by Dilnaz Boga who is a senior journalist based in Srinagar reports for Kashmir Dispatch.