Srinagar: The heaviest load that labourer Mohammad Sultan has carried in the last 30 years was a tiny body weighing 12 kg. The body of Manan, his two-year-old son.
Hidden from many eyes and snuggled slyly in a blanket, the stiff body of little Manan was carried through Thursday night and Friday morning till it reached Kishtwar, where it stoked massive street protests.
The baby could have been on the path to recovery had the poor family been able to move Kishtwar deputy commissioner Angrez Singh Rana into action for making available a critical care ambulance that was lying not far away. Neither Rana nor his subordinates and officials at the Kishtwar district bothered to act.
Rana, however, claims protests are political. “The district hospital people told me the critical care ambulance was not in town. It was returning from Jammu and was caught in a traffic jam,” Rana said in his defence. “People who are leading the protest against me are trying to politicise the issue,” he said.
But Sultan and Muzaffar Hussain, his nephew, are in a state deep shock and grief.
“It was a long night which we will never forget. We spent 12 hours with a dead baby in a bid to take him home for burial,” Hussain told News18 from Kucchal village in Kishtwar.
“No one was willing to take us back home through the night. We turned to everyone for help, spent six hours at the Jammu bus stand. Finally, we decided to board a passenger bus without telling anyone that a baby lay dead in a folded blanket,” he added.
Sultan and Hussain carried a lifeless Manan for 230 km from Jammu to Kishtwar for eight hours, exactly the same time they had spent travelling from Kishtwar when they were referred to Jammu's SMHS speciality hospital.
Recalling the tragic events, Hussian said that on Thursday morning they took Manan to Kishtwar hospital after he started feeling drowsy at his home in Kucchal village.
“Manan was administered some medicines at the hospital, but when he did not show any improvement, we were told his condition had deteriorated. The doctors told us that the baby was suffering from acute pneumonia. They referred him to Jammu children’s hospital,” he said.
He said the family sought help from Ababeel, a a local voluntary organisation, which requested Rana to provide a critical care ambulance to ferry the child to Jammu.
“When we entered DC sahib's room, he asked us to leave forthwith saying ‘no one dies of pneumonia’,” Hussian added.
“Even his deputy told us to leave. We collected money for the poor family and later rushed them to Jammu in an ordinary ambulance,” said a senior functionary of Ababeel. “The hospital management provides ambulance to the patients only after fuel charges are paid,” he said, adding that even poor patients have to pay.
The family and NGO members alleged that they tried to reason with Rana and his deputy that since they could not afford the payment, they be given an ambulance free of charges. “But since they did not agree, we collected and paid Rs 3,800 as charges,” the Ababeel official said.
Rana admitted that this was the norm, but added that exceptions are made in some cases. “Had they requested, I would have considered,” he said.
Sajjad Ahmed Najjar, a local councillor, flayed the district administration and demanded that Rana and the hospital administrators be suspended or shifted out of Kishtwar “for negligence leading to death of a baby”.
He even led a protest outside District Hospital, Kishtwar, where many residents staged a sit-in with the body when it arrived from Jammu just before noon.
Najjar alleged that the district administration did not even ask the driver of the ambulance, in which Manan was taken to Jammu, to bring back the child’s body even though he was in the same city.
“They are so irresponsible that they did not think of allowing the family to give a decent burial to a small baby,” he said.
The protestors have demanded that the police register an FIR against Rana, his deputy and hospital officials for carelessness.
However, the protests ended when a local tehsildar assured of an inquiry and compensation for the family. Late on Friday, little Manan's body was buried in Kucchal village.