The start of the three-week lockdown on March 24, was also the beginning of a week-long ordeal for a 33-year-old Delhi resident stranded at Kolkata airport till she was eventually rescued by various agencies.
The woman had arrived in Kolkata in search of a job, four days before the lockdown was imposed and had been attempting to get the last available domestic flight out of the city on March 24. After missing the scheduled flight, the woman found herself stranded outside Kolkata Airport because ground transportation had been halted almost immediately following the lockdown. She remained outside the gates of the domestic terminal for hours, and reportedly faced harassment from local youth attempting to photograph and film her, till she was provided assistance by CRPF officials on duty inside the domestic airport.
After being unable to answer questions asked by CRPF officials during preliminary investigations, the woman was transferred to a government quarantine centre in Rajarhat, at present used to isolate people with suspected cases of coronavirus. She was later transferred to M. R. Bangur Hospital in the city and tested for COVID-19. Under government rules, the woman was kept under observation for 48 hours till her reports came negative. However, despite testing negative, she was unable to get discharged due to hospital rules because the hospital did not have any information for her next of kin.
Dr. Sisir Naskar, Superintendent of M.R. Bangur Hospital, told The Indian Express: “She did not want to give us any information about her name or her family or her address. She also did not want to give us any details of local contacts.” According to Naskar, the woman had refused to get tested when she had been first brought into the hospital and had also given hospital staff a difficult time during her stay. Naskar said that the woman had also caused damage to hospital property. “Perhaps she did not have a good experience with hospitals and that is why she behaved in this way,” he said. According to Naskar, it appeared that the woman’s ordeal had left her traumatised.
Naskar told The Indian Express that the woman’s brother, who had been unable to reach her on her mobile phone during this time, had contacted Kolkata Police’s airport division searching for his sister, only to be informed that she had been admitted to M. R. Bangur Hospital. “Her brother inquired about her whereabouts and said he could not travel to Kolkata to get her discharged due to the lockdown. He sent us an email to get her released,” said Naskar.
However, despite release papers issued by the hospital, it was not possible for the woman to be sent to New Delhi to her family since only cargo planes have been departing from Kolkata Airport post the nation-wide lockdown. Individuals with knowledge about the case said there were also no women personnel on board the cargo flights.
With nobody in the city who would assure authorities of the woman’s welfare, during conversations with hospital staff, the woman said she wanted to go to her maternal grandmother in Jamshedpur. The hospital administration told The Indian Express that they turned to West Bengal Radio Club for assistance, a local amateur hobby group that works in coordination with various state governmental organisations during natural and man-made disasters and calamities, to help people in distress, at no cost.
“I was alerted by the hospital superintendent about this case,” said Ambarish Nag Basu, 49, secretary of the West Bengal Radio Club. That started a complex process of acquiring permission and access from Kolkata Police headquarters at Lalbazar to cross sealed district and state borders by car in the midst of the nation-wide lockdown and organising transport to drive the woman from Kolkata to Jamshedpur in Jharkhand.
Basu enlisted the help of a West Bengal Radio Club member, Somenath Chakraborty, 40, along with a driver to drop the woman to Jamshedpur on March 31. The trio reached Jamshedpur around midnight, after a six-hour drive. “We sent her to Jamshedpur with a lot of difficulty. On the return journey, Chakraborty did not have any documents, barring a sign board saying the car was on duty, and they were constantly stopped for checks,” said Basu. With shops and restaurants closed during the lockdown, there was also no food available on the journey to and from Jamshedpur.
The woman’s family declined to be interviewed for this story, while Chakraborty was unavailable for comment.
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