On the evening of 18 October, a few moments before, Sameer Mehraj was watching news on a television set in his home in S.D. Colony in Batamaloo area of Srinagar, and now crawls with pain in abdomen.
Sweating heavily, on seeing him vomiting, his elder brother, Hilal Ahmad, 29, rushed him to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, which is about 3 kilometres away from their residence, at 10 pm.
At the hospital, Mr. Mehraj was asked to take up a handful of medicines for instant relief, and was prescribed a few medical tests. When the test results came out, his disease became clear – he was suffering from jaundice, with bilirubin level at 12.5 points; eleven points higher than the normal range of 0.1 to 1.2 points.
Impure water or unhygienic habits make one prone of falling prey to jaundice, which is caused by an increase in bilirubin, a waste material in the blood. An inflamed liver or obstructed bile duct can also lead to jaundice.
For the following ten days, Mr. Mehraj was admitted in the hospital, and now lies bed-ridden at his home. Although, he is not alone; about a dozen families from the neighbourhood are either suffering from jaundice or complimentary symptoms such as vomiting, weakness, and high fever. The youngest victim is a 3-year-old boy, Azaan Altaf.
As per the local residents, the pipeline was originally installed in early 1960s. Over the period of time, its condition deteriorated. They allege that the pipeline has defects en-route – diving into a dirty drain at the entry of the neighbourhood; ultimately, leading to dirty or impure water.
Dr. Irfan Farooq, who has been practising medicine in SMHS hospital for the past four years, said, “It is very unfortunate that in the 21st century we are treating jaundice cases because of impure water supply in the households.”
He explained that the impure water supply opens up flood gates for many more viral and infectious diseases. “These diseases can cause an epidemic,” Dr. Farooq added. “If jaundice takes on a person when he is already suffering from any other disease – there are chances that the individual might die.”
The eldest in the family of Mr. Mehraj, his 65-year-old grandfather, Habibullah Khuroo, sitting inside a grey-walled room, said in a low voice, “This is the mercy of the government – it’s their gift to us.” He blames the government, and administrative departments, for not hearing their frequent complaints. “They made us drink dirty water; he (Mr. Mehraj) fell ill because of it.”
Mr. Khuroo stood up – keeping his blanket aside – and slowly walked to the adjacent room. As he walked back, slowly, his shivering hands placed a box, carrying old cassettes and papers, on the floor. He took out a half-torn paper from the box and asked to read the date: “19-06-2018”.
It was a joint application from the locality addressed to the Public Health Engineering (PHE), asking to change the water pipeline in the locality. “Every time they used to tell us that ‘we will do it soon… tomorrow… next week’,” said Mr. Khuroo. “But all of our pleas fell into deaf ears.”
His belief that every government failed to address the sufferings of the people comes from his past experiences. “We have no one to share our ordeals,” he said. “We are deprived of our basic necessities and treated as a second class citizen.”
The neighbourhood hasn’t merely been suffering health wise, but economically as well. Mr. Mehraj, who is a daily-wage driver at a local private school, hasn’t earned anything for the last eleven weeks since the central government stripped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) and put Kashmir Valley under lockdown on 5 August – which was later eased out in a phased manner.
The family of Mr. Mehraj had to spend about a quarter of lac rupees on his treatment in the past weeks, including medicines and medical examinations. In the adjacent room to Mr. Mehraj’s, his wife is bed-ridden too; her gallbladder is damaged – courtesy, the infected water.
His father, Mehraj-ud-din Khuroo, 49, suffered from brain haemorrhage a few weeks before the clampdown.
Talking about the economic difficulties that the family is facing, the grandfather, Mr. Khuroo added, “Where will a poor man go? We have been caught up in such tough times; if the Almighty doesn’t show his mercy, we will die.”
Late reaction and its implications
A lab operator at Al-Dawna Diagnostic Centre, a private medical test lab in Karan Nagar area of Srinagar, Naseer Ahmad Shigan ran “a large number of Liver Function Test (LFT) cases in September during the shutdown.” He noticed the average bilirubin level at 15 points – about 14 points higher than the normal rate of 0.2, while a few had enzyme levels rose by 50 per cent.
Being a local resident, he took the matter to the office of Director of Health Service and convinced them to conduct a medical examination in the neighbourhood. In the examination, out of 70 samples, as per Mr. Shigan, 55 were found prone to one or other health complications.
The 38-year-old lab operator, alongside other residents of the area including Mr. Khuroo, asked the PHE department to change the line on emergency basis. “But due to the shutdown, our requests were ignored,” said Mr. Shigan. “Gradually, people in the neighbourhood started getting too ill and were admitted to the hospital.”
By mid-October, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at the hospital took notice of sudden spike in the number of patients from a particular neighbourhood. Finally, on 26 October, after about 80 days of shutdown, the PHE department installed an emergency pipeline.
Today the new emergency pipeline flashes out in the lanes of the neighbourhood. Though, about a dozen of residents, to whom The Kashmir Walla talked to, said that it still shows the negligence of the concerned authorities. They aren’t sure what might happen to a superficial pipeline.
The Kashmir Walla tried to reach out to the concerned officials multiple times, but didn’t get any response.
Fear and the loss of dignity
Back in the colony, a sense of fear is still around and families are maintaining a distance from the new line as well. Most of the families in the locality are storing water in containers – fetched from nearby areas of Alochi Bagh and Lal Chowk in Srinagar.
A college student from the locality, 19-year-old Anis Yasseen, is one of the many who are using packed mineral water bottles for drinking and cooking purposes.
Mr. Yaseen’s face was pale, and eyes yellow. He was diagnosed with jaundice on 18 October – currently at 8.2 points. Sitting on the balcony of his one-storey house, he said that many of their relatives have stopped visiting their house “because of the dirty water.”
In Batamaloo, for this neighbourhood it wasn’t better late than never. For Mr. Khuroo, the installation of emergency pipeline came late; by then, he had his family members in the hospital and a pile of bills to pay. “We had zero income in this shutdown,” said Mr. Khuroo. “Wen ches heshee ka’thaa, kensi kh’ash kareth pate afsoos karon, su moodmut yeya wapus (it [installation of pipeline] doesn’t matters to me now. It is like slaughtering a person and expressing regret later – does that bring a dead back?).”
This story originally appeared in the 4 – 10 November 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.