The torment of common citizens

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist
Shanti devi is a stone cutter belonging to scheduled caste community. She lives in a village called Meerpur Sudihamau of Barabanki district. She was visiting her brother Gabbar in Lucknow in June 2014 with her entire family. Gabbar lives in a slum opposite Bhavishya Nidhi Bhawan and Seema Shashastra Bal campus in Vibhuti Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow. On the night of 3rd-4th June, 2014 at 1 am her husband Vinod went out to urinate by the side of road. A speeding car came and hit him. It dragged his for a while and then fled the scene of accident. Vinod was taken to KGMU Trauma centre but could not be saved.

Shanti devi could not go back to her village in Barabanki and decided to live in the same slum. On the night of 4th October, 2014 at 9 pm a car came again. It stopped near the slum, went pass the slum, made a u-turn and then amazingly sped towards the jhuggi in which Shanti was sleeping with her four children, Arjun, 10 years old, Karan, 8 years, Sanguri, 7 years and Rambabu, 6 years. The car with registration number UP 32 AD 7483 was half inside the jhuggi and fortunately stopped before it could take somebody’s life. There was commotion in the slum. People from neighbouring jhuggis caught it this time. The two youth in it were thrashed and then handed over to the police. The car was seized and taken to police station Takwa in Gomti Nagar.

Was it a coincidence that Shanti's family became the victim both times or was it deliberately targeted? Whatever may be the case the incident highlights the fact that the life of poor is so cheap that some rich people probably overrun them as a sport.

The incident also highlights several pressing problems that our country's poor face. Lack of toilets has emerged as one of India's basic problems. Women are molested and raped when they have to go out to relieve themselves. Road accidents is one of the biggest killers in India. According to National Crime Records Bureau over one lakh people die every year and one person is killed every five minutes in India because of road accidents. This figure is likely to go up in coming years as Indian roads have more high speeding traffic on it. Food, clothing and housing are basic needs of human beings. The poor, if they are somehow able to manage the first two, find it difficult to have a house, especially in cities. As a result most of them live in slums. The urban housing schemes have proved grossly inadequate to accommodate all poor.

Thus the two incidents with Shanti’s family highlight most of the problems which poor in India face and because of which they are denied a safe and respectable living. In no civilized society and especially in a democracy such pitiable conditions must prevail. But India is far from fulfilling basic needs of about two third to three fourth of its population.

In another incident on 7 September, 2014 Geeta w/o Rajneesh r/o Village Gurudeen Kheda, Block Fatehpur Chaurasi, District Unnao, went to Public Health Centre, Fatehpur Chaurasi of her district, for delivery of her child. Dr. Alka on duty there refered her to District Hospital, about 35 km away. An Asha Bahu accompanied her to the district hospital in a government ambulance. When Geeta was crying in the hospital because of pain a nurse slaped her and turned her away from the district hospital. The Asha Bahu accompanying her then took her to a private hospital of her district, Sushma Hospital in Shuklaganj, probably according to a pre-decided strategy. The same doctor Alka, posted at PHC, operated upon her to deliver the baby. Geeta was asked to pay Rs. 14,000. When she expressed her inability to pay the amount she was locked inside the hospital. The family somehow managed the amount by selling Geeta's jewellery and secured Geeta's release from the hospital with the baby.

The Asha Bahu who took her to the private hospital gave her a cheque of Rs. 1,400, which is given to only women delivering babies in government hospitals, in exchange for a bribe of Rs. 500. This was shared between the Asha Bahu and a nurse.

Socialist Party (India) staged a dharna outside the PHC at Block Fatehpur Chaurasi on 7 October, 2014 with the demand to take action against health department employees who misled Geeta to a private hospital and to return the money as she did not go to the hospital on her own but was tricked into going there.

The CMO, Dr. S.P. Chaudhary, arrived at 8 pm at the dharna site. He agreed to both the demands in written. The nurse's share, Rs. 300 was returned to Geeta on 8/10 /14 and the Asha Bahu's share, Rs. 200 on 9/10/14. The DM, Unnao, Ms. Saumya Agarwal called on 13/10/14 to inform that the CMO would return the Rs. 14,000. The amount was returned in the CMO, Unnao office same day. However no action has been taken against employees including the doctor.

As normally happens in such circumstances the administration, which went on defensive, is trying to wriggle out of the situation by counter-accusing the victim. Quite often they succeed in making a culprit out of the victim. It is being claimed that Geeta is trying to blackmail the health department officials. The question that may be asked is, even if this is true, why did the health department officials do things which put them in a situation where they can be blackmailed?

It would be better if the health department and district administration accepted their mistake and busted any racket that may be operating in Unnao to fleece the patients visiting the government hospitals by misguiding them to a private hospital.

This highlights the issue that same quality health care should be available to all citizens. This can happen only when all the health care is nationalised. Health care, like education, should be free for all citizens irrespective of their financial condition.

Shanti and Geeta symbolize what ordinary Indian citizens have to go through in their lives.

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Citizen News Service - CNS
22 October 2014
(Dr Sandeep Pandey is a Magsaysay Awardee and a senior faculty at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He serves as a the national vice president of Socialist Party (India) and is the national convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and Asha Parivar. He has earlier taught at IIT Kanpur and IIT Gandhinagar and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley)