The Chowkidar

Umar Khurshid tells the story of a specially abled man, who after guarding a hospital for a decade is now face to face with livelihood crisis

Muzaffar Ahmed Khan (KL Image by Shah Hilal)
Muzaffar Ahmed Khan (KL Image by Shah Hilal)

Muzaffar Ahmed Khan, 27, a specially-abled man, of Nadoora village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag is being appreciated all over the village for his efforts to survive with dignity and being helpful to people.

Despite having both his legs crippled, Khan is cited as a role model for the hard-working he puts in to feed his aged parents. Over the years, Khan has saved some money for his sister’s marriage. “My one of the sister is married and another is scheduled to get within few days,” Khan said. “I’m responsible for the whole expenses this time as well.”

A local resident who lives few meters away from Khan’s house, said “Despite his physical incompetence, he never gave up,” the resident said. For many years he built his two-storey house that lies in the village periphery behind a bumpy pathway dotted with potholes.

Sitting on the threshold, an elderly woman wearing an over-sized woolen Pheran is Khan’s mother Hafeeza, 50. As the Moazin calls for Zuhr prayers, Khan reaches home to join his mother at lunch. He drives his wheelchair cycle, the only source of his movement and earnings. One day, at lunch, he breaks a good news to his mother that his night duty at the hospital has concluded with November.

Khan is the night chowkidar at Model Hospital Dooru. On December 2, 2019, he completed his nine years of service. Though initially required for the night, he was later asked to guard the hospital premises for the day also. The hospital is not fully functional, but still witnesses a huge rush of patients requiring CT scan and Ultrasound tests, on daily basis.

Every morning Khan’s mother cleans his wheelchair, helps him sit on it and take control of the cycle lever. She watches him till he moves away from her sight. A victim of post polio residual weakness that has strangled both his legs, Khan travels a distance of one kilometer on his wheelchair to reach Dooru hospital to perform his duty, on daily basis.

At the hospital, Khan’s first job is to take a round of the premises on his wheelchair to check if there is some visible abnormality. “There are chances of thefts as well,” Khan believes. “Thieves barge into the hospital premises and loot many things, requiring for construction.”

By 10 am, Khan opens the hospital’s main gate and two cabins inside the building. Since the local residents and health department are engaged in a dispute over the opening of the most modern facility, only two rooms have been made functional, so far.

An hour before the dusk, Khan checks everything, ensures that every door is locked and then prepares for home. Earlier, Khan used to stay for nights as he had to guard the other buildings in the rare of the hospital. From December 2019, however, he was permitted to stay home for the nights.

“Relinquishing my night duties reduced my income by Rs 5000 rupees,” Khan regretted. Khan was getting Rs 3000 for his day shift and Rs 5000 for his night duty. In the last few years, this hard work had helped him upgrade his modest  single -torey home , which is still a work in progress.

What is interesting in the life of the hospital guard is also linked to the hospital. Khan was born normal. He acquired a deficiency because of the negligence he witnessed at district hospital Anantnag. In 1992, when the six month old toddler was vaccinated for polio, he saw high fever. According to Hafeeza, his mother, when feverous Khan was taken to district hospital Anantnag, the doctors ironically injected the same injection at the same place, resulting in paralysis of both legs. Interestingly, Khan’s disability certificate says he is a victim of post polio residual weakness between lower limbs.

Khan was 16 when he became a chowkidar in 2010. Then, a student of tenth class, he was preparing to appear in the board examination but could not afford giving up an opportunity of employment. He tried his chance when his labourer father, Mohammad Yousuf khan, who had an association with the contractor who built the hospital, offered him work. Eventually both father and son started working with the contractor.

“My father was guarding the building during night hours and I began managing accounts in day hours,” Khan said. The hard work used to fetch the father son Rs 3500, a month.

In 2012, with the arrival of non-local workforce, Yusuf’s services were discontinued. Watching his father’s job loss, Khan put in more efforts. “By looking at my working zeal, contractor gave me my father’s place.”

Khan stopped managing accounts and began guarding the buildings. In the zeal to retain the ‘job’, Khan dropped out.

“Since then, almost ten years have passed, I am serving the same contractor.” His contractor-employer helped Khan to improve his living standard. With his help, Khan repaired his house, as part of the construction material came free.

The money that Khan earned helped him see one of his two sister’s settle in 2017 and his younger sister is scheduled to get married soon.

A decade later, Khan sees his fate hanging in balance as his income plummeted to an abysmal low. Managing his home requirements is a tough job for the young man. He is not in a position to understand how he will manage the family at a time when his father is too old.


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