Grieving father travels 200km on bus with baby’s corpse as he ‘couldn’t afford ambulance’

‘With no money left, I packed my son’s body in a bag and took the bus’

Namita Singh
Tuesday 16 May 2023 12:35 BST
Representational image of a commuter peeping out of a bus stuck in traffic in Kolkata on 31 January 2022
Representational image of a commuter peeping out of a bus stuck in traffic in Kolkata on 31 January 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

A grieving father in India said he had to travel hundreds of kilometres by bus with the corpse of his five-month-old child in a bag as he could not afford to pay for an ambulance.

The incident took place last Sunday in the eastern state of West Bengal when Ashim Debsharma was forced to take a bus after an ambulance driver demanded Rs 8,000 (£77) for taking him home from Kaliaganj located in Uttar Dinajpur district to Siliguri in Darjeeling, 200km away.

“My five-month-old son died last night after treatment at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH) in Siliguri for six days, during which I spent Rs 16,000 (£155),” he said.

“The ambulance drivers demanded Rs 8,000 to take us back home. With no money left, I packed my son’s body in a bag and took the bus from medical college back to Kaliaganj.”

He claimed that when he called the ambulance on the number 102 – an emergency medical transport service in the country – he was told that it was a free facility for patients, not for corpses, reported NDTV.

He traveled back home in the bus without seeking any help from co-passengers or bus staff, fearing that if they would find the body of his son, he would have been asked to deboard.

Mr Debsharma, a migrant worker, had admitted his twins to a general hospital in Kaliaganj for an undisclosed illness, before he was referred to Raiganj Medical College and Hospital, which then again transferred him to NBMCH – the largest medical facility in north Bengal.

While the health of one of his sons improved, the other child remained ill and died on Saturday evening, reported the Hindustan Times.

The hospital authorities claimed Mr Debsharma did not reach out to them for the ambulance.

“The NBMCH does not have its own hearse, but if economically weaker families request us, we make arrangement for it through the patient welfare committee,” hospital superintendent Dr Sanjay Mallik was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times. “In this case, however, the family members did not contact us.”

“Had he approached us, efforts would have been made to arrange for a hearse.”

The incident has drawn a sharp focus on the healthcare infrastructure of the state and has acquired a political colour.

Opposition parties mounted attack over the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) as the chief minister sought a report from the region’s deputy chief medical officer. “It is better if such incidents do not happen,” said Mamata Banerjee, who handles the state’s health ministry alongside her duties as chief minister.

“There should not be a shortage of ambulances (at the hospital). There were three ambulances at the hospital, maybe all three were busy with other work. We are looking into the incident.”

Members of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issued stinging criticism as they lashed out at the “condition of the health facility in West Bengal”.

“She (Mamata Banerjee) makes such tall claims. The government claims to have constructed multi-specialty hospitals where many get facilities for free... We have returned to the era where people don’t have vehicles to carry a body. Mamata Banerjee should see what is the condition of this state,” BJP leader Rahul Sinha was quoted as saying to the Indian Express.

Sujan Chakraborty, a leader of the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist), said, “A father is carrying his child’s body because an ambulance is charging Rs 8,000 in a state, where the CM claims all health facilities are free, is unthinkable.”

Reacting to the criticism, TMC Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen accused the BJP of trying to “play dirty politics with the unfortunate death of a child”.

“It’s definitely an inhuman incident,” said Mr Sen, adding that the dean of the hospital was looking into the incident. He, however, claimed the state’s health infrastructure was intact, and took the opportunity to criticise BJP lawmaker Suvendu Adhikari.

Days before, a man was allegedly knocked down by a car in the leader’s convoy and had died at a hospital in the state.

“This is the only state in India where all people get free health facilities,” claimed Mr Sen.

“As the Leader of Opposition continues to do politics over dead bodies, I would like to remind him that recently a man died after being hit by a vehicle which was part of his convoy. He didn’t even stop to take him to the hospital and we all know that he died.”

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