Stuck in Hospital After Losing a Child, Waiting 3 Days for 1 Call: Life in Kashmir Today

“We want to go home as early as possible. I feel like I'm choking here [in hospital].”

Srinagar: In the din inside the corridors of Srinagar’s Lal Ded maternity hospital, Bilal Mandoo sits on the floor. Occasionally, he turns his eyes towards a cardboard box on his right. He touches it gently and heaves a deep sigh before running his hands through his unkempt hair.

“All our dreams have come crashing down,” a pale Mandoo says softly. “It was Allah’s will, but we hadn’t expected this at all.”

Inside the box is Mandoo’s stillborn baby. He and his wife, Raziya, were excited to welcome their first child next month and had made all the preparations, before things turned ugly on August 9.

Since August 5, when parliament scrapped Article 370 and voted to divide Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, Kashmir is reeling under a curfew. All means of communication, including mobile and landline services and the internet, have been blocked.

Raziya developed “some complications” on August 8. In the absence of transport facilities, the couple waited for 12 hours before deciding to visit the Kupwara district hospital, covering most of the distance on foot. Their home is around 17 km from the hospital, says Mandoo.

After a preliminary check-up, Raziya was referred to the Lal Ded hospital, the Valley’s tertiary care maternity institute. “By the time she arrived here, it was too late,” said a doctor at the hospital.

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Heartbroken, the couple is desperate to return home, where nobody has any inkling about the tragedy that has befallen the family. “My parents are waiting to welcome their first grandchild. I don’t have the courage to hand them this dead body,” said the young man, his eyes brimming with tears.

The couple was waiting for an announcement on the hospital’s public address system about an ambulance leaving for their home district on August 10. “We want to go home as early as possible. I feel like I’m choking here,” Raziya said.

An ambulance is the only means of transport for patients and attendants to go back home. As an ambulance arrives from a particular district carrying a patient, an announcement is made for patients from the district to prepare to leave. Then there is a race among the patients. Those who can’t make it have no option but to wait for the next announcement.

Though private traffic had increased in the civil line areas of Srinagar on Friday and Saturday, and people were coming out to buy essentials and make preparations for Eid, there is hardly any information available about the situation in rural Kashmir owing to the communication blockade.

Security forces personnel patrol a deserted street during restrictions after the government scrapped special status for Kashmir, in Srinagar August 9, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

There are numerous stories of how people are struggling under the prevailing situation. Since Friday, Wajahat Nabi and his wife have been making rounds of the deputy commissioner’s office in Srinagar to try and contact their only son, Faizaan Nabi, who is studying medicine in Bengaluru. The administration has set up a telephone booth inside the deputy commissioner’s office for people to talk to their children and relatives living in other parts of the country.

This lone communication facility is a paradox in itself. “We stood in the queue for more than four hours on Saturday. Late in the evening, the man handling the service abruptly closed down the booth saying ‘no more phones today’,” sighed Maimoona, Nabi’s wife. “We pleaded with him, begged him to give us one chance, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Hours before mobile and landline services were blocked and internet suspended in Kashmir on Sunday night, Maimoona had spoken to her son on the phone. Faizaan had informed her that he had booked a flight ticket to Srinagar for August 8.

On Sunday, the couple returned to the district commissioner’s office early in the morning, hoping to be among the first ones to use the phone, only to find themselves standing at the tail end of a serpentine line. Like this worried couple from Srinagar’s Lal Bazaar locality, dozens of people including anxious parents and young men were waiting restlessly for their turn. A man in his mid 30s wanted to call his parents who are on Hajj, an elderly man from Downtown had come to contact his daughter studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a young woman from the Hyderpora locality on airport road wanted to contact her brother in Mumbai to know about the condition of her nephew, undergoing treatment at a hospital for lung cancer.

“I’m worried about my son’s well-being. Some bad thoughts have started to occupy my mind, no matter how much I try to distract my attention,” said an anxious Maimoona, who is a government school teacher. She said the government employee handling the phone service wasn’t kind to her the day before. “If he had kept the booth open for a few
more minutes, he would have got the blessing of a mother.”

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An official at the district commissioner’s office said the rush of people is growing too large to handle. “There is already pendency in hundreds and with each passing hour, the number of people registering their contacts to talk to their relatives outside is growing,” the employee said.

On Friday (August 9) the divisional commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Khan, told a press conference that the administration would set up 300 such booths in 10 districts of the Valley with a population of around 80 lakh people.

Barely a kilometre away from the district commissioner’s office, Nazir Malla, a resident of Shopian, had an argument with doctors at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital’s oncology department after his father, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, a
cancer patient, was asked to return next week for radiotherapy.

Battling lung cancer, Mohi-ud-Din was scheduled for his third cycle of therapy on August 8. He couldn’t make it on the day, owing to curfew across the Valley. Now, his son fears that missing the treatment cycle could worsen his health.

“We have a particular number of patients scheduled for treatment each day. There is no way that a new patient can be adjusted in this schedule,” a doctor said. He added that many patients couldn’t make it to the centre on time owing to the prevailing situation. “Obviously a break in the therapy schedule means prolonging the treatment and it has its own fallouts,” said the doctor.