This ‘ambulance dada’ of Jalpaiguri is the poor’s only ride to the hospital
It has been 20 years since Karimul Haque has been ferrying patients to the hospital, first on a bicycle and then on his motorbike free of cost. Photos: The Federal

This ‘ambulance dada’ of Jalpaiguri is the poor’s only ride to the hospital

In Dhalabari and many such nearby back-of-the-beyond villages in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, medical facility has practically meant a one-man healthcare system for over two decades now.

Over the past 20-odd years, 55-year-old tea garden worker Karimul Haque has singlehandedly saved numerous lives by ferrying around 6,000 patients from across 20 villages to hospitals in his two wheelers, earning the sobriquet ‘bike-ambulance dada.’

His social crusade earned him the Padma Shri in 2017 and now it has inspired Bollywood to make a biopic on him.

Haque on Saturday signed an agreement with production house of noted producer Karim Morani of Chennai Express and Ra One fame, he revealed to The Federal. The yet to be titled biopic will be directed by Vinay Mudgil.

Haque (middle) signs the agreement for the biopic based on his life

Mudgil has been contemplating the movie for over two years now and had even visited Haque’s Dhalabari village in 2018 to understand the social warrior’s life and circumstances.

“Karimul can be an inspiration for many. This is one man who lives for others. Even with his meagre income, he tries and helps people,” Mudgil was quoted as saying by the PTI after the visit.

“It is a matter of great honour for me that a biopic is made on me. But I will be happier if this film inspires people to help others,” Haque said, adding, “If everything goes as per plan Mudgilji and his team will visit us in January. But everything will depend on the COVID-19 situation.”

Earlier this year, Penguin India published a 256-page biography of the ‘ambulance man’ penned by journalist-turned social entrepreneur Biswajit Jha.

The incredible story of Haque started in the summer of 1995 when on a March morning his mother died without any medical intervention. “The whole night we desperately tried getting an ambulance or any other mode of transportation to shift my mother to a hospital. But nothing was available. She died in the morning without any medical help,” Haque recalled.

The nearest primary health centre to these villages in Mal block of the district is 15-20 km away. The nearest hospital is a 45-km journey through dense forests and an elephant corridor. To reach there, one also needs to cross Chel River on a makeshift bamboo bridge precariously perched on bamboo poles.

For the villagers, mostly small-time farmers or daily wage workers in tea estates, the go-to-man for any medical help now is their “bike-ambulance dada.”  He is just a phone call away and available at any time of the day or night.

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“After my mother’s demise, I vowed to do something about this communication bottleneck. Initially, I started taking patients to the hospital on a bicycle. Then in 1998, I purchased a second-hand motorcycle to do the job,” he said.

In 2007, he took a loan to purchase a TVS 110cc, that served as his two-wheeled ambulance. In 2016, Bajaj presented him a bike with a sidecar.

“Except for women in advanced stages of pregnancy, any patient can be taken to hospital on a two wheeler. I tie the patient tightly to my back to carry them to the hospital on the bike. On a bike, one can reach the hospital faster,” he said. “In our area a bike ambulance is a better option as it is easier to manoeuvre on the narrow roads and rough terrains,” he added.

For his service Haque does not charge anything. But grateful villagers often pay a minimal fare to meet fuel costs or “return the favour” in kind by presenting him rice, vegetables or other field produces. As his inspirational story got recognition, donations also started trickling in, encouraging Haque to expand the ambit of his social work.

He has now started constructing a three-storyed hospital on a part of his ancestral land. “By the grace of god, I am getting generous help from people in my endeavour to build the hospital. With their backing, I am hopeful of dedicating the hospital to the villagers very soon,” he said.

“The ground floor is almost ready, where we conduct basic tests like sugar and blood pressure and administer saline drips in case of emergency.”

To make him more useful to the people, Haque also got himself trained in administering basic first aid to patients. To raise health awareness he also runs health camps in tribal areas at regular intervals.

His wife, two sons and brothers are his constant support in his endeavours. His sons run a mobile-repair shop, which is the main source of livelihood for the family.

During the pandemic-induced lockdown, Haque regularly distributed food and ration to the poor and the unemployed migrant workers who returned from cities. For his service, the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad in June this year appointed him the district’s health ambassador for COVID-19 as part of its public awareness programme at the grassroots level.

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So far more than 1,000 people have received rations from Haque and his family, who have also served cooked food to another 200 families.

He has also opened a Taekwondo centre and is planning to start a skill-development training centre to help girls in the nearby village become self-reliant.

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