AT 8 AM Monday, Rachna delivered twins, both girls, first-borns. Around 3 pm, Raees Qureshi left after seeing his son “playing” on a cot. Later that evening, Rashid Khan sat down for dinner.
In the hours that followed, the fire that broke out in the Kamla Nehru Hospital in Bhopal left all of them with a scarred night they would never forget.
One of Rachna’s twins, Qureshi’s son and Khan’s nephew were among the four infants who were killed. The mother of the fourth infant has been identified as Sonali Manshani.
On Tuesday, struggling to hold back tears after his nephew’s burial, Khan said he was having dinner at home when he got a “panicked call” from his sister Irfana about the fire. When he reached the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) on the third floor of the hospital, he saw desperate doctors and nurses rushing to carry infants out of the ward.
Instead of looking for his nephew, Khan joined them. He thought: “If I can save the lives of these innocent babies, God will protect mine.” Khan says he saved eight infants but could not save his eight-day-old nephew, Rahil, who was “born after a wait of 12 years”.
“The room was filled with smoke but the flames were low. We began cutting out the wires, pulling out equipment attached to the electrical units and carrying the infants to another ward,” Khan said.
“But in the rush, I did not look for my own nephew…they were all innocent lives that needed to be saved. After rescuing eight infants, I heaved a sigh of relief when we were told that all the infants have been rescued from the ward,” he said. It was about 30 minutes later that Khan began looking for his nephew. His search ended at 3 am, when he was finally asked to check the mortuary.
Lying next to Rashid’s nephew in the mortuary was another infant, barely a day old, the tag attached to her body identifying her as the daughter of “Ankush Yadav”.
For 25-year old Ankush and Rachna, Monday was “the happiest day” although their twins, born after seven months of pregnancy, needed oxygen support.
“We had gone inside the ward to ask the doctors what injections were needed. Suddenly, there were sparks in the ventilator and everyone started running. Had we been able to remove the ventilator, the fire could have been contained, but everyone just ran,” said Ankush, while waiting outside the hospital to collect his daughter’s body.
“My father and I rushed to get fire extinguishers but most of them were either dysfunctional or empty,” he said. “The fire escalated due to the gross negligence of the hospital staff. They panicked and instead of disconnecting the affected unit, ran for their lives,” said Ankush’s father Narayan Yadav.
Like Khan’s sister, Ankush said he had approached the government hospital because they could not afford the Rs 5,000 per day required for the SNCU facility in a private hospital. The family has now been informed that the chances of the other twin surviving are low.
Qureshi’s 12-day-old son Samad was in the SNCU with respiratory issues. “I had left him playing on his cot at 3 pm on Monday. I was given his body the next day,” said Qureshi.
“We were running from one ward to another to find him, and even checked other hospitals. Today morning, we received a call from the hospital asking us to report to the morgue,” he said.