Even as police scramble to try to trace a woman who went missing from Gandhi hospital premises in Hyderabad over 11 days ago, the members of the fact-finding team who visited the hospital say there were several security lapses on part of the Gandhi hospital administration. Questions are being raised about the lack of functioning CCTV cameras and the efficiency of the security arrangements at the premises.
On August 7, two sisters from Mahabubnagar of Telangana went missing from the Gandhi hospital premises. One of the sisters, Shanta*, aged 38, was found a week later on August 14 lying naked behind the chairs at the hospital's outpatient ward. The woman later alleged she was drugged within the hospital premises by five to six men. She has no recollection of the events since being drugged at the hospital, she said. Both sisters are suspected to have been sexually assaulted. Shanta has undergone medical tests. The woman named her relative, Uma Maheshwar, who worked at the hospital's Radiology department as one of the accused. Her 40-year-old sister is still missing as of August 18.
"How was it that someone dumped a naked woman at the hospital and no one noticed?" asked Sandhya, a member of Progressive Organization for Women who were part of a five-member woman-led fact-finding team that visited the hospital on Tuesday, "There were no CCTV cameras facing the spot where her unconscious body was dumped. The hospital also has a considerable number of security guards manning the gates and corridors. How come even they didn't notice?" the activist asked. The fact-finding team said there are over 200 CCTV cameras within the hospital premises but many of them are not working.
Shanta had accompanied her sister Latha* for the treatment of her brother-in-law, Ravi* admitted at Gandhi hospital on August 5. Both the women were attending to the patient's care. "The patient was at the hospital but no staff cared. If it was a corporate hospital a nurse would take care of everything but at a government hospital, the patient attender does everything. But those on duty did not notice the patient attender was missing and that the patient is lying alone for two days?" Sandhya added.
After noticing that his wife and sister-in-law were missing, Ravi reached out to his son, Sharat* on August 9. Sharat also searched for his mother and aunt within the hospital premises. The father and son left on August 12 without a formal discharge, Shanta was found a day later on the morning of August 14.
"But on August 11 someone has forged the signature of the 40-year-old woman on the consent form," said Sandhya, quoting the hospital senior administration.
The Telangana Women Commission was also informed of the same by the Gandhi hospital superintendent, said the spokesperson for the commission. "The doctors had recommended dialysis for the patient who was admitted but someone seems to have forged the signature of the woman even though she was missing. It was signed saying they donâ€™t want dialysis. This whole thing is very bizarre," the official added.
The fact-finding team alleges this points to procedural lapses on the hospital's part. The team also spoke to the colleagues of Uma Maheshwar who worked in the Radiology department as a Dark Room Assistant. "He got the job on compassionate grounds. His colleagues tell us that for the past one week before his arrest, he was irregular at this work and was not his normal self. He would attend duty and leave within a few hours without informing anyone."
In the meantime, Shanta and her nephew along with Ravi were taken to a Bharosha centre, a support center for women and child survivors, within the city where the police are recording their statements and piecing together the sequence of events.
The women commission chairperson V Sunitha Laxma Reddy visited the hospital on Tuesday and enquired about the security arrangements. The Home Minister Mahmood Ali and Excise Minister Srinivas Goud directed the police to take strict action against all the accused.