‘I have stayed in plastic gowns for hours without food’

Mahmood Saifi started driving ambulances after the lockdown rendered him jobless.

Mahmood Saifi started driving ambulances after the lockdown rendered him jobless.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

COVID-19-designated ambulance driver talks about his plight, social boycott

Mahmood Saifi’s joy knew no bounds when he got his kidnapped son back after six years with the help and intervention of late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in the matter. This incident is four years old but the 46-year-old man still and does not let any opportunity to help the ones in need go.

As the lockdown was announced in March, Mr. Saifi, a resident of Seemapuri, lost his job of a mechanic with a noted brand’s service centre in Ghaziabad. When he was asked by a friend if he would be willing to work as a driver for a private ambulance service working for Lok Nayak Hospital, he grabbed the offer. He was told that the job would include transporting COVID-19 patients and bodies and would bring him ₹15,000 a month. He joined on April 23 after having stayed at home and out of work for a month.

Ever since, he has taken no leave. “My former boss asked me to join again, but there are a few drivers who are willing to transport COVID-19 bodies or patients. When I was in despair, I met a lot of people who were God-sent for me. Yes, I had agreed to do the job as I was in need of money. But I will continue to do it till the situation gets better irrespective of the fact that the money is less,” he said, adding that his previous employer paid him ₹25,000 per month.

However, he said, his willingness to work for a good cause has led to a “social boycott”. Recalling the time when he had started, he said he had to lie at home about the job. He had told his wife that he was going to work as a driver. However, two days later, his wife happened to attend a call from the hospital and got to know his “secret”. Within a day or two, his neighbourhood also came to know about it. What followed was hurtful.

“They all stopped talking to me or coming near me. In fact, they also made a PCR call and told the police that they could contract the virus because of me. Eventually, a doctor from the hospital had to speak to the police and the matter was resolved. Our entire family is still getting such treatment by most of the neighbours,” he said.

Sharing other hardships of being a COVID-19 designated ambulance driver, Mr. Saifi said that the situation got better after the government allowed cremation on wood pyres but earlier, the drivers used to bring three-five bodies to the cremation ground and would stay for five-six hours till the vehicles were emptied. “The number of bodies were thrice the number of working CNG machines. I have stayed for hours without food and water in either plastic gowns or PPE kit. We used to feel dehydrated,” he said.

To keep themselves and their families safe, drivers take precautionary medicines every night after dinner and before going home, “I call my wife and tell her the time I will reach. When I enter, they all need to lock themselves in a room while I straight away enter the washroom for bathing and washing clothes,” he said, adding that he makes at least four-five rounds from hospital to cremation grounds and graveyards, often with families of COVID-19 patients.

Mr. Saifi also said that his son’s story dates back to 2016. He said that the late External Affairs Minister had even tweeted about his son. In 2010, his son Sonu was kidnapped and taken to Bangladesh where he was made to work as a domestic help. A neighbour there found him and was determined to find Sonu’s parents. He reached Delhi and found Mr. Saifi — six years after Sonu’s kidnap. The involvement of the Ministry was required to bring the boy back home. A journalist then helped the family and tweeted to the Minister who took up the matter and helped him come back.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 8:28:58 PM |

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