India

Kashmir unrest: Life-saving ambulance drivers reveal how they are targeted in the violence

The ambulance drivers, particularly from south of Kashmir, have the most gut-wrenching stories to tell, apart from the injured.

Sameer Yasir August 09, 2016 18:49:50 IST

Abdul Aziz Kala, an ambulance driver who works at SMHS hospital in Srinagar, shows me multiple bruises on his right leg, as if someone had sliced him with a sharp razor multiple times. The culprit, he explains, are both protesters and paramilitary soldiers. These bruises were from the most recent beating, which took place a week ago, when he was taking three injured protesters on the outskirts of the city towards Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where majority of the injured in the clashes are brought for treatment.

Abdul Aziz Kala was beaten many times in the past four weeks, while carrying injured to the hospital. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

“We are at the mercy of protesters and soldiers on the streets,” Kala, 46, said inside the SMHS hospital, where almost every ward is overfilled with people injured in the current unrest in valley.

Kala has been beaten three times in the last four weeks; recently, protesters beat him when they noticed him carrying the medical staff inside his ambulance. And after leaving the staff, while coming back towards the hospital, he was ordered by a group of CRPF men to remove a bundle of concertina wire spread on a road to make way for his ambulance.

“I injured myself while removing wires. They know we are ambulance drivers, they should ask for the ID but despite that, they order us to come down and remove the wire,” he explains.

Outside the hospital main entry of the hospital Mukhtar Ahmad, another ambulance driver, has just brought an injured boy from a periphery hospital. The front mirror of the ambulance van is broken, and small pieces of glass are still scattered inside. Ahmad was recently carrying a 9-year-old boy, injured in Natipora area of Srinagar, towards SMHS when solders noticed an injured boy inside the van and broke the front shield and windowpanes of his ambulances.

“This did not happen even in the worst years of militancy, when people were killed on the streets but we still managed to get injured to the hospital. But after every passing day, the job is becoming difficult,” Ahmad says, while staring at a grave (in the main compound of the hospital) of Ghulam Nabi Bhat, an ambulance driver who was killed by BSF troops in Batwara area of Srinagar on 20 July, 1992 while driving an injured towards the hospital.

Mukhtar Ahmad was carrying an injured boy when he was attacked by paramilitary soldiers who smashed the front mirror of his ambulance. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

“Ours is a noble profession but buy every morning, since the unrest began, my wife tells me to sell chicken instead of driving ambulance,” he says.

The ambulance drivers, particularly from south of Kashmir, have the most gut-wrenching stories to tell, apart from the injured, blinded, maimed and bullet-ridden victims of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir.

Shafkat (name changed), who works as an ambulance driver in Anantnag hospital, drove the bullet-ridden body of a teenaged victim who was fired upon by the forces during clashes with protesters last month. As soon as the victim was lodged inside, nearly a dozen attendants filled the ambulance and started shouting slogans.

“We were about to reach Bijbehra when forces forcibly stopped the ambulance and dragged attendants out and started beating them,” Shafkat told Firstpost on the phone.

“I thought that was it. But then they came for me, grabbed me by my collar and started beating me with sticks,” he added.

After almost ten minutes, he drove his ambulances towards Srinagar through deserted streets, before a police vehicle chased him and forced him to turn towards Pampore hospital. A video, which has gone viral on the social networking sites, shows policemen barging inside his ambulance and dragging out the attendants accompanying the injured.

“Had the hospital staff not intervened, they would have dragged the patient too from the ambulance,” he said.

An injured being brought to SMHS hospitals in Srinagar. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

After dozens of attacks against the ambulance drivers both by protesters and paramilitary forces and police, Hurriyat leaders were forced to issue statements asking the youth to desist from attacking the ambulances.

“Youth should maintain discipline and desist from attacking the ambulances, medicos and journalists,” Hurriyat leader Shabir Ahmad Shah said.

Suhail Masoodi, director of Centre for Research and Development Policy, a policy think tank based in Srinagar, says the protection of the wounded during an armed conflict is the first founding principle of the Geneva Convention, to which India is a signatory.

“Although it is not a full blown war, during the armed conflict, it has to be ensured that effective help for the sick or wounded medical or humanitarian personnel and facilities must be respected and protected in all circumstances,” he says.

According to Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, government forces and protesters have damaged more than 120 ambulances since the present began on 8 July in Kashmir. There is ambivalence among officials for registration a legal case against the forces and protesters, as the issue will make the ambulances more vulnerable to such attacks.

Riyaz Ahmad Khan, transport head of the Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir says there have been instances in which windscreens, side and rear windows, lights, tyres and body all were damaged, apart from beating the drivers.

“Policemen have often targeted ambulances which has been recorded on camera by people. Whenever they notice an injured protester inside the ambulance they attack and break the windows, often beating the drivers too,” he says.

“But it is not just the policemen protesters too have created hurdles in carrying the patients from different parts of Kashmir.” he added.

Most of the drivers say if the attacks continue they might have to stop working, which could create another major crises in the valley as the clashes continue and hospital continue to receive injured from different parents of the Kashmir region.

Updated Date: August 09, 2016 18:49:50 IST

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