A 19-year-old woman COVID-19 patient was allegedly raped by an ambulance driver while shifting her to a first line treatment centre near Pathanamthitta, police said on Sunday.
Taking note of it, the State Women's Commission registered a case on its own into the incident, which drew wide condemnation from the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, even as health minister K K Shailaja said strict instructions had been given to take strong action against the culprit.
"This is an unfortunate incident. We have given strict directions to take strong action against the culprit," she said in Thiruvananthapuram.
The ambulance driver Noufal, 29, was taken into custody on Sunday based on a complaint by the victim's mother to the hospital authorities and the police.
He was dismissed from service, the Kanivu 108 Ambulance Services said in a release.
According to police, the incident occurred at Aranmula on Saturday.
"We were informed by the hospital authorities after the victim told them about the incident and we took him into custody. We will take the statement of the girl later as she is not a position to explain her ordeal," the Investigating Officer told PTI.
The girl was admitted to a hospital at Adoor on Saturday after she and her mother tested positive for coronavirus.
While she was being shifted to the First Line Treatment Centre (CFLTC) later, the driver took her to an empty plot and raped her.
The Commission Chairperson M C Josephine they have offered all help to the woman.
'This issues hows that women patients need separate security measures. Besides taking strict action against the culprit, his driving license must also be cancelled. Strict background checks should be done before appointing drivers for ambulances,' she said in a press release.
Pathanamthitta Superintendent of Police P K G Simon told reporters that they nabbed the culprit soon after being informed about the incident.
"He is from Kayamkulam and is an accused in an earlier murder case. We are looking into the details. The incident was very unfortunate," Simon said.
He said the driver raped the woman at an empty plot at Aranmula near Pathanamthitta.
Meanwhile, Opposition Congress and the BJP lashed out at the state government over the incident and demanded a high level probe into the matter.
Speaking to reporters in the state capital, Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the incident, which has shocked Kerala, was due to the 'lapses' of the state government.
"The woman was sent alone in an ambulance with the culprit... Now police are saying that the culprit has a criminal background. Why was this not considered before he was appointed? We demand a high-level probe into it," he said.
BJP state chief K Surendran, who also sought similar action, said the incident showed that the Kerala government was a 'failure'.
"This shows that the Kerala government is a failure and we demand the resignation of the health minister. The patient was sent with the driver without following any protocol," Surendran later told reporters.