The alleged rape of a 19-year old woman COVID-19 patient by an ambulance driver in Kerala has drawn widespread outrage and condemnation in the state.
The incident occurred at Aranmula on Saturday night while the woman was being shifted to a first line treatment centre near Pathanamthitta, police said on Sunday.
There was no woman health worker on board with the patient, The Hindu reported.
Protests broke out in front of the District Medical Office, Pathanamthitta, on Sunday with Congress and BJP workers staging separate demonstrations, the report said.
“We were informed by the hospital authorities after the victim told them about the incident and we took him into custody. We will take the statement of the girl later as she is not a position to explain her ordeal,” the investigating officer told PTI.
“The culprit is from Kayamkulam and is an accused in an earlier murder case. We are looking into the details. The incident was very unfortunate,” Pathanamthitta Superintendent of Police P KG Simon told reporters.
The man has also been charged under sections relating to prevention of atrocities against Scheduled Castes, Manorama reported.
SP Simon said the driver raped the woman at an empty plot at Aranmula near Pathanamthitta.
She was assaulted after the ambulance dropped off another woman patient at Kozhencherry Taluk Hospital, the police said, adding that this indicated the assault was pre-planned.
Kerala Police said a crucial piece of evidence in the case was an audio recorded by the woman without the driver’s knowledge in which he is heard telling her he would lose his job and life if she told anyone about the incident, Manorama reported.
The ambulance driver Naufal (29) was taken into custody on Sunday based on a complaint by the survivor’s mother to the hospital authorities and the police.
The driver was dismissed from service, the Kanivu 108 Ambulance Services said in a release. Manorama reported that Naufal had gotten the job without producing Police Clearance Certificate (PCC), a document mandatory for employees in the 108 ambulance service.
A senior health department told the news site that the state government did not play a role in recruitment for the service.
The recruitment is done by the company that provides the service based on contract. We make the payment to the contractor based on their service and we have a system to check it. We just ensure that the services are conducted promptly,” the official reportedly said.
Opposition demands answers
The State Women’s Commission registered a case on its own into the incident, which drew wide condemnation from the opposition Congress and BJP, even as health minister K K Shailaja said strict instructions had been given to take strong action against the culprit.
“This is an unfortunate incident. We have given strict directions to take strong action against the culprit,” she said in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Commission Chairperson M C Josephine they have offered all help to the woman.
“This issue shows that women patients need separate security measures. Besides taking strict action against the culprit, his driving license must also be cancelled. Strict background checks should be done before appointing drivers for ambulances,” she said in a press release.
The government should blacklist the firm, she said.
Opposition Congress and the BJP lashed out at the state government and demanded a high-level probe into the matter.
Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the incident was due to the ‘lapses’ of the state government.
“The woman was sent alone in an ambulance with the culprit... Now police are saying that the culprit has a criminal background. Why was this not considered before he was appointed?,” he said.
BJP state chief K Surendran said the incident showed that the Kerala government was a ’failure.”
“This shows that the Kerala government is a failure and we demand the resignation of the health minister. The patient was sent with the driver without following any protocol,” Surendran told reporters.
The Health Department had no business sending an ambulance to collect a woman patient without a health worker on board, he reportedly said.