Social media can often be misleading, and the people’s lives portrayed in it very different from what we see. In the second wave of Covid-19 in India, social media became an important tool for people from different parts of the country to come together to help strangers verify and find resources – from hospitals beds to oxygen cylinders to Covid-19 medication. It also became a platform where stories of Covid-19 warriors inspired others, and their tragic stories struck a cord for the people reading them. One such story of an ‘inspiring’ woman that went viral last week, may have had a much darker context than what was portrayed online. Last week, the story of an Assam woman, Niharika, went viral for her ‘inspiring act.’ Niharika’s husband and Thuleshwar Das’s son Suraj was away from home for a job – so she was in charge, taking care of her father-in-law in her husband’s absence. After contracting the deadly coronavirus infection, 75-year-old Thuleshwar Das, a resident of Bhatigaon in Assam’s Raha district, had to be admitted to a hospital. This was when Niharika decided to carry her ailing father in law on her shoulders to a nearby Raha health centre for treatment. Subsequently, she was also tested positive for Covid-19.
Niharika Das’ gesture for her father-in-law was lauded on social media – but Niharika, who was oblivious to her overnight fame was fighting a different battle. 24-year-old Niharika Das from Nagaon’s Raha told Indian Express that she hopes no one should go through what she did.
Niharika said she carried him on her back out of desperation and having had exhausted all her other options. On June 2, Niharika’s 75-year-old father-in-law, Thuleshwar Das, a betel nut seller in Bhatigaon village, started showing symptoms of Covid-19. Niharika arranged an auto-rickshaw to take them to the nearest community health centre about 2 km away.
“But my father-in-law was too weak to even stand up. My husband was away at work in Siliguri, so I had no choice but to carry him on my back and take him to the vehicle parked at a distance,” said Niharika, who has a six-year-old son. She said that the road leading up to her house was not motorable, so the auto could not reach their doorstep.
The local health official advised to send Thuleshwar Das to the district Covid Care Centre and keep Niharika in home isolation. But Niharika refused to send the elderly father-in-law to the hospital alone. An arrangement was provided to send her father in law to the Covid Hospital of Nagaon Bhogeshwari Phukanani Civil Hospital – which was 21 kms away.
“So we had to call for another private vehicle. There was no ambulance, or stretcher, so I had to carry him to the car again. People stared, kept a wide berth from us, but no one offered to help,” she told Indian Express. “My father-in-law was almost unconscious and it took me a lot of strength — physically and mentally to carry him.”
That is when, unknown to Niharika, someone took the photo of her which was subsequently posted on Twitter and went viral.
But even at the Covid-19 hospital, Niharika’s ordeal didn’t end. “Finally, we were referred to the Nagaon Civil Hospital. Even there, I had to carry him on my back up to three flights of steps. I asked for help but no one was available,” she said, “I think I must have carried him for 2 km in total that day.”
Niharika, who also tested positive later, said she had no idea about the viral post until a local news channel approached her for an interview. But her side of the story was different: “It may not show in the photo but I was feeling lonely and totally broken,” she told Indian Express. Niharika’s story is perhaps a grim reminder of the reality of the harsh, unrelenting second wave of Covid-19 in India which has left thousands dead and even more families in the lurch of the aftermath.