Saviour on Wheels | The Social Warriors

THE TRANSPORTER: Haque ferrying a mother and child to the hospital across the Chel river (Photo: Subir Halder)

Born into a family of daily wage labourers in Kranti village of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal, there was nothing extraordinary about Karimul Haque’s life. When he got married and had children, he found himself a job in a tea garden to take care of his family.

It was only in 2001 when his mother suffered a stroke and died because he could not get her to a hospital in time that Haque decided to do something. The Mal block (West) where he lives has a population of 400,000 and the nearest primary health centres are 15 kms away. That is if one is willing to cross the 590 metre wide Chel river on a makeshift bamboo bridge. The Mal subdivision hospital is a 45 km journey through Odlabari forests which also happens to be an elephant corridor. The health centres open for a few hours and there are no ambulances.

When a friend of his at the tea garden fell sick, Haque borrowed his manager’s bike and took him to the hospital. And so began the journey of Bike Ambulance Dada.

Taking a loan from the owner of the tea garden, Haque bought a TVS bike and had a red cross sign and ‘ambulance’ painted on it. Some flashy lights and a blue beacon later, he was ready to ferry patients, mostly cases of snake bite, fire and road accidents as well as those who needed help. He also took training in first aid, enabling him to offer preliminary treatment for snake bites and burns.

Haque has ferried some 5,500 patients to hospitals till date. His services are available round the clock. Impressed by his efforts, Bajaj Auto gave him a bike with a sidecar that he got covered for protection against rain. He also had an oxygen cylinder and a medicine box fitted on to the bike.

Haque now wants to build a three-storeyed hospital and an old-age home for the poor with the money he will get from a planned biopic on his life. He also acts as a facilitator, connecting deserving students with wealthy patrons who sponsor their education; he has hel­ped 12 girls in this manner.

When the Union secretary called him up one day in 2017 and told him, “Aapko Padmashri milne wala hai,” Haque thought it was a prank call and said he did not want to meet either of them, Padma or Shri. Only when watching television later did he realise that he had won the national award. Political parties have offered him tickets and money, but he wants neither.