KZN nurse’s Indian ordeal

2014-02-25 00:00

A SOUTH African nurse is fighting to return to South Africa after being thrown into an Indian prison for being in possession of a single bullet.

Well-known cardiac nurse Isra Devi Lutchman (62) was arrested at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi after a live 9 mm cartridge was found in her luggage on February 19.

Lutchman, of Pietermaritzburg, who works at the city’s St Anne’s Hospital, has been charged with contravening India’s Arms Act.

On holiday on the sub-continent with her sister and brother-in-law, who asked not to be named, the group had travelled from Durban to Dubai without incident. The bullet was detected in her main luggage at Delhi.

Jailed for four days, she was released after a bail application, but is still in Delhi, awaiting an application to have the case against her withdrawn.

Represented by Indian lawyer advocate Asim Ali, Lutchman’s passport is still with local authorities and she will not be able to leave the country until the case against her is withdrawn.

Ali will be making that application, as well as another seeking permission for her to return to South Africa, in the course of this week.

Indian police are expected to file their charge sheet on completion of an investigation later this week.

Meanwhile, in a dash to get to Lutchman’s side, her relatives are scrambling to apply for visas and to secure air-tickets and accommodation in Delhi.

“We are hoping to leave by Wednesday [tomorrow] to get to her for the court hearing on Friday. It’s a traumatic time for us. We can’t begin to imagine the trauma she has been through and continues to face alone in a foreign country. All we can think of right now is getting to India to be with her,” said her son Colin, explaining that Lutchman’s sister and brother-in-law were already on a flight back home yesterday.

Lutchman is a familiar face in Pietermaritzburg and assists her husband in his pet grooming parlour, Spaga’s. She is also a junior soccer development coach administrator.

Released on bail, Lutchman described to her family the condition of India’s prisons.

Colin said his mother had been insufficiently fed and “did not bath” during her stay in prison.

He said the family was concerned for her well-being.

“She is an elderly woman who serves her community, yet she is treated like a criminal there. Taking her age, profession, family background and criminal history into account, it is easy to see that she is no arms dealer. She has never possessed a firearm in her life or been accused of any firearm-related offence,” said Colin.

“We are not sure how the bullet got into her luggage,” he said, adding that he and his father were both licensed firearm owners.

It is believed, though, that a relative who also owns a firearm had earlier used the bag for a trip.

“We suspect the bullet may have lodged there when the bag was used by the relative. There is no other way, besides it being planted there, for the bullet to get in her bag,” said Colin.

Glowing character references from people in the medical fraternity have been sent to Indian officials to bolster Lutchman’s bid for release.

“Isra’s 24 years of service with Netcare St Anne’s Hospital has been outstanding and without any tarnish. She is a respected member of our highly efficient cardiac team and our specialist cardiothoracic surgeon has singled her out as an outstanding nurse.

“During her 24 years with us, we have never had any reason to mistrust or doubt her character. She maintains high standards of integrity and honesty as part of our team. She is always available to assist our critically ill patients needing emergency surgery day or night,” said nursing manager Sister Ash Norman.

Cardiovascular perfusionist Surekha Singh described Lutchman as a “Florence Nightingale in the true sense”.

“She is a motherly figure to patients and supports staff members. It is for this reason that we find her incarceration rather unfortunate,” said Singh.

Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations, Clayson Mon­yela, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

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