Two autorickshaw drivers have dedicated their time and energy to ferrying patients to and from the Tiruchi Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital. The drivers say they go out of their way to help the needy during these trying times, charging only nominal fares.
Notwithstanding the pressure of fulfilling family needs, P. Karthi, a debt-ridden, middle-aged man, continues serving the public even if his philanthropic mentality has meant the re-possession of his autorickshaw by his creditor. He now uses a rental vehicle to ferry patients.
The other driver, S. Manikandan, lost his wife to COVID-19-induced complications last year. “She was being treated for lung cancer when she was diagnosed with the infection,” he said.
He ferried her from Tiruchi to Madurai for treatment in his autorickshaw as he was unable to afford an ambulance, but to no avail. Six months after her death, he returned to ferry patients facing similar struggles.
Patients referred to COVID Care Centres, those who have been discharged, attenders and those searching for beds in private hospitals are ferried in these vehicles. The passengers pay how much ever they can afford.
The drivers make at least 10 trips each a day, earning only about ₹1,000, of which at least 50% is spent on fuel. “We do not do this for profit. We need some money to sustain our families but other than that, we are looking to help in our own way,” Mr. Manikandan said.
In spite of their good deeds, they are troubled by other autorickshaw drivers, they alleged. “There is an autorickshaw stand right outside the government hospital. These men chase us away and charge the patients exorbitant fares. We have to take patients while trying to keep them off our backs,” Mr. Karthi said.
The duo is also looking to get vehicle passes from the district administration for their service. “We are stopped by the police and do not usually have any documents to show that we are ferrying patients. It would be wonderful if they can help us,” Mr. Karthi said.