“Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.” ~Wilfred Grenfell
It was a breaking news in Jalpaiguri, “Locals want Karimul Haque to be honored with the Presidential Award for his service to humanity”. It was only fair, given that Karimul had been running an ambulance service for free, for all the local residents to ensure that no one ever died due to lack of timely medical service. Karimul knew the pain of losing a family member: he had started this ambulance service after he lost his mother due to the unavailability of an ambulance. Actually, he improvised an ambulance, by getting a side carriage fitted to his motorcycle, and thereby innovating a motorcycle ambulance.
Recollecting the fateful night Karim said, “It was a dark night when my mother, Zufuran Nessa, suffered a heart attack. We were looking for some emergency medical help. Unfortunately, we couldn’t manage to take her to the hospital located 45 km ahead of our village. I was shattered and felt worthless. I realized that the tragedy that happened to me, should not happen to anyone in my village.”
As a worker in a tea estate, Karim earned just about Rs 4,000 a month but never thought twice before spending Rs 2,000 for fuel and other costs out of his own pocket. “I am doing this in memory of my mother so that God grants her a place in heaven,” he had said with pride.
People used to laugh at him when he started carrying patients on his bike. He placed a board ‘bike-ambulance’ on the front of his bike and even acquired permission to use blue blinking light. At least a hundred people call him for help every month. His dedication can be gauged from the fact that ever since he started, he didn’t take even a single day off during the last 14 years. If he gets a call while working, he immediately rushes to help. The manager of the tea plantation also supports him and lets him, go in case of an emergency.
Ferrying a patient to the hospital in an ambulance is a luxury mostly elusive for a majority in the region. Rarely are desperate calls for an ambulance attended to as the nearest hospital in Malbazar is 45km away and the potholed road meanders through dense forests, notorious for elephant attacks. “The ambulances make an exception for pregnant women. However, it takes them half a day to reach us. The nearest public health center is 8 km away, but it lacks proper health care facilities,” he added. Besides, a bike ambulance will be of more help in these narrow lanes and by-lanes, where four-wheelers get stuck every now and then.
Local people consider him God-send. Some even seek his blessings before auspicious events. “Karimul dada is next to God. When my mother-in-law had a stroke, we thought she wouldn’t survive. Thanks to Karimul dada, who drove at jet-speed to the hospital, she is hale and hearty now,” said Bulu Oraon, a villager.
So, what is his ultimate dream? An ambulance fitted with advanced healthcare facilities, says Karimul. “This will help people who live in remote areas in a big way,” he said. His prayers have been answered, albeit partially. Recently Bajaj upgraded his bike and fitted it with a waterproof stretcher and ports for oxygen cylinder as part of their corporate social responsibility initiative. But if a proper ambulance comes his way, will he ditch his bike ambulance? “The bike ambulance is my mother. How can one leave his mother?” he asked.
Karimul Haque conducts regular health camps in tribal areas. To ease things for the villagers, he has also started providing basic care at their doorstep, having taken intensive training from local doctors. “There are times when roads are flooded and traffic does not move. For occasions like that, I taught him the basics like how to dress a wound and administer an injection. I have seen him cleaning wounds of a maggot-hit septicemia patient,” said Dr. Saumen Mandal, a surgeon at the Jalpaiguri district hospital.
The joint secretary of Panchayat and rural development department, Dibyendu Das, who was also the additional district magistrate of the region between 2014 and 2016, funded his endeavor on occasions. Most people I help are poor who can’t afford hospital fees. In that case, he tries to pay as much as his pocket permits.
He also collects rice, blankets, and clothes, and distributes it to the needy. He gets donations from school teachers, cops and sometimes students too. That helps him to fund the treatment for the needy.Karimul’s family, too, supports him in this noble cause. Karimul also goes on rounds and has been trained to give first aid to those who meet with road accidents.
On 25 Jan 2017, a call from Delhi informs him that he has been chosen to be honored with one of India’s civilian honors Padma Shri. “I had no idea about the award but later, some local people told me about it. If I am getting it for my work, I would dedicate it to my mother, who inspired me to help the poor and ailing people in her life,” he said. When asked how his life would change now, after getting a Padma Shri he said, “I want nothing for myself. I still run the ambulance and can afford the petrol bills. Instead, I would be grateful if the government can do something to ensure better medical facilities in the region,” he added.
He has two sons and two daughters. Both the daughters are married and his two sons are working as mobile mechanics. His family members are quite supportive of his work. Why he doesn’t purchase a car for better service he explained: “This region has a difficult terrain where traveling by car is not possible every time. Also, bike-ambulance has become popular and now people easily recognize me so that I don’t want to switch.” He feels that if one has the courage and determination anything is possible.
A big salute to Karimul for his super inspiring efforts for Humanity.