- Cover Story
Extraordinary Indians: How Bike Ambulance Dada Karimul Hak became a lifeline for ailing folk in rural Dhalabari
After losing his mother due to lack of timely emergency transport, Karimul Hak began his mission to help ailing folk in remote locations reach medical facilities for care.
HEALS ON WHEELS
It isn’t easy living in villages like Dhalabari. Their proximity to West Bengal’s tea gardens might make them a convenient home for those who work on these estates, but their remoteness makes things like quality health care distant, often inaccessible. “Also, my people are very poor. Many of them cannot afford an ambulance, and so they can’t reach a hospital in times of crises,” says Karimul Hak. In 1995, when Hak’s mother suffered a heart attack in the dead of night, he couldn’t arrange for an ambulance despite all his efforts. “I was devastated,” he says. “I took a vow that day. I’d help people in distress.”
Four years later, when a colleague fell unconscious on the tea estate where Hak worked, he borrowed his manager’s motorbike and carried his friend to an emergency ward in Jalpaiguri. “As I saw him recover, I had an idea—I could offer the same service to many more people,” says Hak. In the past 20 years, Hak, 54, estimates he has helped close to 6,000 people reach a hospital in their hour of need. After using a second-hand bike for a few years, Hak bought a TVS110 with a loan he had taken: “The money I’d spend on my mother, I started spending on things like petrol, etc. I was doing this for her.”
The 45 km journey from his village to the hospital can, at times, feel treacherous. “I have to drive through a forested area of 10 km or so, and the wildlife there makes me worry for my life, yes, but I worry more for the sick people who are riding with me.” When, in 2016, Bajaj Auto gifted him a bike that came with a hospital-cot-styled sidecar, Hak says he felt relieved. “It became easier for me to transport bodies and pregnant women.” A Padma Shri in 2017 firmly put Hak’s efforts in the spotlight. “I did not even know what a Padma Shri was. I don’t care for awards. I only care for people,” he says.
Known to everyone in his area as ‘Ambulance Dada’, Hak has seen his work garner more attention with each passing year. Penguin India, for instance, will publish his biography this month. There’s even a Bollywood biopic in the offing. Donations are now pouring in from overseas and all corners of the country. Hak says these contributions are helping him widen the scope of his charity: “During the pandemic, I was able to feed 200 poor people every day. I am also building a day-care hospital now.” Hak next has his heart set on a ventilator-equipped ambulance. “Nothing is more rewarding than saving a life,” he says.
This profile is part of RD's annual series 'Extraordinary Indians' that celebrates ordinary individuals changing their communities through courage, compassion and selfless service to humanity. To read about more local heroes click here.