Friday, 18 August 2017

Gorakhpur hospital deaths: It’s high time we valued human life

The Gorakhpur tragedy was inevitably the subject of conversation and debate across the country. From a few I was privy to, the overriding conclusion seemed to be, `that world is some other country’s hell.’
This sense of detachment stems not so much from physical distance, rather psychological and emotional. In a way, this is expected given the size and diversity of the country. But therein also lies our failure at assimilation as a nation.
Urban India’s view of Uttar Pradesh (and Bihar too) is of some faraway dystopia. It is shaped by lack of knowledge about its people and reinforced by stereotyping: through popular cinema, and a media narrative that has got increasingly slanted in recent times. For most Indians elsewhere, UP (and Bihar) is full of bumpkins and bounders, goons and gangsters; where everyday life — like its politics — is ruled by various matrices of caste, community and religion.
Essentially, it is perceived as a dysfunctional state pulling the country down rather than one which needs to be uplifted by understanding the problems, concerns, safety and security of its people. Such a cock-eyed view ignores the human dimension, and imbues even a tragedy of the magnitude that hit BRD Medical College as a natural consequence rather than a colossal failure of the state administration.
Gorakhpur has long been identified as a backward area, particularly prone to Japanese encephalitis. While there is no magic wand the chief minister has to wish away the problem, it was nonetheless imperative for the local and state authorities to be watchful, if not battling the scourge on a war footing.
Worse, the horrific tragedy has sparked off a blame game in which lives lost and families destroyed have been reduced to statistics and the main issue sidelined — sadly even by mainstream media debating inane matters.
But cover-ups and excuses never wash for long. How much better if there was acceptance of failure, prompt and diligent investigation, accountability fixed and measures taken to prevent a repeat of such crisis?
In a broader perspective, the Gorakhpur tragedy is symptomatic of the callousness with which public health care functions in the country. And this is not restricted to backward areas alone as might be imagined.

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