Srinagar: Panic gripped the 12 women who had been kept in quarantine in a Boys Hostel in Kashmir with more than 300 males, when one in the quarantine centre tested positive for COIVD. But apart from the fear of catching the deadly virus, they say that neither the quarantine centre was hygienic, nor did they feel safe.
The officials too, they say, were extremely rude and did not take their complaints seriously.
Zenaira, 24, who spent days in the quarantine until her tests came negative, says that she with her friend had been to Delhi for an internship. When they were supposed to come home, the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic was imposed worldwide. Only when the train services were resumed, they travelled via train from Delhi to Jammu from where they were set off for Kashmir by bus.
“We reached Kashmir’s Tourist Reception Centre at around 10 pm on May 18. We were told that we will be kept under quarantine in hotels after our screening. But no screening took place and we were sent to a hostel instead of a hotel,” says Zenaira.
The lot travelling with her consisted mostly of males. Along with the 12 other women, the authorities sent them to Kashmir University’s Boys Hostel, Zakura.
The women say that they cooperated with the authorities, however, when they went inside the hostel, they were shocked.
“The room allotted to us had no lock/bolt. When we complained, we were sent on the 4th floor. When we opened the door of the toilet, we felt sick to the stomach. The commode was blocked and people had defecated on the washroom floor,” shares one of the women.
The toilet was unusable, for almost two days the women did not use the washroom, but ultimately, had to use the same toilet.
The bedding too wasn’t what procedures in a quarantine centre mandate. The sheets were covered in stains and hair, the women say.
“The blankets were stinking, and what is the point of quarantine if things used by people before us are provided. It just increases the risk of getting infected,” the women say.
The women add that they could not change their clothes during their time in quarantine because they had no avenue to take a bath.
“With around 300 men, who anytime barged into the washrooms, with no locks, we did not feel safe. But the authorities did not pay heed to our complaints at all,” they say, adding they even tweeted and tagged DC Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary.
“He promised to help us by the first day’s evening. On our fourth day no one had came to help. When I called DC again, he said he can’t understand why we weren’t feeling safe and women have been coming and will keep on coming to the centre,” Zenaira says.
Responding to FPK’s question regarding the issues, DC Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Choudhary says, “we have received 7,100 persons at 158 hotels/quarantine facilities, out of which 50% have walked out after testing negative. Srinagar has best of facilities compared to any place.”
“The Nodal officer Zakura has complained against a group of 7 girls about unpermitted visits in quarantine centre which is being looked into after CCTV footage supporting the contents of complaint. Meanwhile Zakura has been in regular use since 2 months, properly sanitised & cleaned,” the DC added.
The Nodal officer too, the women say, was rude to them when they tried to talk to him about their problems. Eventually, the people in the quarantine centre had to intervene and tell the nodal officer to hold himself back.
Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, the Nodal Officer posted at the quarantine centre Dr Javaid Sheikh falsified all the allegations saying that the people under quarantine panic because of lack of knowledge of the process the authorities are following to tackle with the COVID-19 crisis.
Addressing the issues raised by the women, he says, “the atmosphere here is hygienic. I personally ask and check the SMC workers to sanitise the centre every day. As far as the male: female ratio here and the discomfort girls are feeling, we already have security guards here, ensuring the security of all the inmates.”
“The quarantine centre has been active since March 22. We have been taking care of them as per our duty. These are some people who want to go home. But, we cannot just let them go,” he adds.
As per the protocol, he says, nobody is allowed to go home until their test results come negative. He also agreed on yelling on the women saying, “I was making them understand the importance of social distancing. I told them they are like my daughters and that I am more concerned about them right now than my family.”
At present, he says, as per the list of test results that comes from Jammu, he sends back home people who have tested negative for COVID-19.
“The list comes from Jammu. In a day, we get around 10,000 test results. From the list, we check who is in our quarantine centre. Today, we sent around 5 of them home. We cannot allow others as yet,” he says adding, “after the testing, the compilation of results takes place which follows alphabetical order. I just got a list of 900 people belonging to Poonch, Rajouri, Anantnag etc. It takes time and we cannot let anyone go before being sure about it.”
However, the women have a different story to tell. “There is no social distancing. No measures are being taken like wearing gloves etc. We tested negative, but one can easily get the virus in these facilities,” says Zenaira.
The women say that they were given tea on the first day and bread was thrown in front of them.
On learning that a male who was sitting around them in the bus had tested positive for Coronavirus, the women were taken aback.
“No one came for our sanitisation till we protested. We explained our fears to the authorities and asked them to run the tests on us again,” they say. But they were told that the second test can only be run after 10 days, as per protocol.
“Till then, they will send us to our home. Which again is unsafe for us and our families. They told us to call them in case we develop any symptoms,” the women add.
“We will never be able to get over this. This has been a very traumatic experience and we are too scared right now,” says Zenaira.
Marouf Gazi is a Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) 2019 fellow and a senior staffer at Free Press Kashmir.
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