A 19-year old coronavirus disease patient was allegedly raped by an ambulance driver in central Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district while being taken to the hospital on Saturday night, officials said.
Police arrested the driver, Noufal, aged 25, within hours of the crime and said he has a case of attempted murder pending against him since 2019. Police also said he had not obtained the mandatory clearance certificate before joining as a driver with the state health department’s ambulance service, which is operated by GVK EMRI Emergency Management Services.
Superintendent of Police KG Simon said to The Indian Express that the driver picked up the victim and another woman, a 40-year-old COVID patient, from Adoor. While the 19-year-old was to be admitted to a COVID First Time Treatment Centre at Pandalam, the other woman was to be taken to a COVID center in Aranmula – around 4kms away. Though Pandalam is en route to Aranmula from Adoor, the driver went directly to Aranmula, dropped the 40-year-old there, and then set off to Pandalam with the 19-year-old. On his way, the driver allegedly took a detour and drove about 18km. On the way, he stopped the ambulance at a desolate place and raped the 19-year-old patient inside the vehicle before taking her to the COVID center.
The driver threatened the woman with dire consequences if she spoke up. The woman told doctors about the incident upon being admitted to a hospital. Later, a medical examination confirmed sexual assault. State health and family welfare minister KK Shailaja called the incident “inhuman” and said, “it should not have happened”.
Health officials said Naufal was recruited on a temporary basis and that they were investigating how he got the job despite his criminal records. Officials in the health ministry said the department will order a probe.
“It appears to be a planned crime. The driver took a circuitous route…We have collected all the evidence. We will fast-track the trial to hand out stringent punishment to the accused,” KG Simon, superintendent of police, Pathanamthitta, said to NDTV.
After reports surfaced about the incident, the National Commission for Women (NCW) said it has written to the Kerala DGP for expediting the investigation and filing a charge sheet in the matter.
@NCWIndia has come across this report that an ambulance driver allegedly raped a 19-year-old COVID patient in Aranmula of Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. Our Chairperson @sharmarekha has written to #DGP #Kerala for expediting investigation & filing of charge sheet in the matter. https://t.co/mL2BIigonf
— NCW (@NCWIndia) September 6, 2020
“NCW India has come across this report that an ambulance driver allegedly raped a 19-year-old Covid patient in Aranmula of Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. Our Chairperson Rekha Sharma has written to Kerala DGP for expediting investigation and filing of charge sheet in the matter,” the NCW said in its tweet.
The accused, who is in quarantine, will be produced in a court through a virtual mode on Monday, police said.
The earlier guidelines were kept in place to keep contact to a minimum.
“The driver’s chamber is partitioned and no other staff or nurse accompanies the driver while ferrying patients to the hospital. This is to limit the exposure of health workers to infected persons. In rare cases, if the patient is serious, we send a nurse. In this case, both patients were stable,’’ said an official to The Hindustan Times.
However, in wake of the incident, health authorities gave strict instructions that every ambulance should have at least two employees and special care should be taken if there were women patients on board. They also sought the help of police to verify the antecedents of all drivers.
The incident resulted in a series of political mudslinging and bickering between political parties and outrage in the civil society. Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja said, “It is a shocking incident. The GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute, which operates the ambulance service, was asked to take action.’’
Following the Health Minister’s remarks, in a statement, GVK EMRI said the driver has been removed from service and a police complaint filed against him. “The GPS of the ambulance has been handed over to police… So far, 108 ambulance services have completed 1.50 lakh trips as part of COVID operations. The accused driver, Noufal, had not obtained a police clearance certificate while joining duty. He had submitted a written undertaking that he would soon obtain a clearance certificate, based on which he was hired… All drivers have now been asked to submit clearance certificates against the backdrop of this incident,’’ it said.