From the Editor’s desk: If we forget the Gorakhpur tragedy, there’s no turning back for this country

UP chief minister Adityanath has issued a statement asking the police to halt all Janmashtami celebrations in the state. Why? Because over 67 families have lost their little Krishnas to the apathy of government officials. Sixty seven children who came to the BRD Medical Collge hospital to be treated for encephalitis. Harmless, innocent, alive. Not any more. I usually handle things parenting and relationships in this column, but what’s happened in a Gorakhpur hospital over the last week has left me and the country shaken. And it would be unconscionable for me to not address it. It would be the same for you to not think about it and let it bother  you. It would be a slight on the happy lives of those children who died for us to ignore their tragic death. Sixty seven children died in a government hospital for the lack of oxygen. 

Here’s an exercise to see if you can put yourself in the shoes of the most innocent victims of deep corruption and criminal apathy. Hold your nose and don’t let yourself breathe for a bit. See how long you last. Each of those children died gasping for breath. Each of those children would have been probably alive if the hospital had paid the vendor’s bills. A vendor who had been repeatedly approaching the hospital for payment. Who had been saying he’d have to cut off supply. A situation that a reporter in a local newspaper had been writing about regularly.

The hospital had been whipped into shape, outwardly, in honour of Adityanath’s visit. This little emergency was swept under the carpet like a lot of the clutter that lay about before the visit. The dean of the hospital has resigned. Other hospital officials too. The vendor has been arrested for cutting off supply. But the true culprits? The administrative service staff? Nope not a piece of blame on them. Officers who are supposed to see that this goes smoothly. Have they been sacked no? Some reports say the Gorakhpur college head received ”orders from Lucknow” to withhold payment because oxygen vendor had failed to grease palms in UP government. If this is true, then it is some inhuman people that we have elected into our governments. If this is true, then we have truly lost sight of what we want for our country and what we expect from our leaders. If this is indeed true, then we deserve the future that we get.

In all of this round-robin blame game, what bothers me is we are yet to see a way to fix what’s wrong with the government hospital system. No one is talking about how to fix this situation. It’s a simple payment issue, the likes of many that hundreds of hospitals do regularly. When there was a balance of Rs 3.2 crores in the account books, why was a bill of Rs 20 lac not passed? Where is the answer to that question? And what kind of colossal greed allows you to play with the lives of people who cannot afford private health care? In fact, instead of talking about fixing the problem, there are slight whispers of privatising health care entirely. Have you ever been seriously sick and gone to a hospital to be treated? Have you looked at your bills at the end of it? On the flip side, have you been to a government hospital to get treated? If you’re reading this on a smart phone in English, my bed is you haven’t. And there, my friend, lies the problem. Think about it. It is the poor that go to government hospitals. And in this country of hunger, farmer suicide and now murder of innocent children, who cares for the poor?

I don’t know what the solution is. It’s easy to say that we need to stem the rot from the very core. But how does one do that when the first statement out of the UP CM is that the deaths did not occur? How does one do that when the PM is busy issuing statements of condolence for Bangladesh and forgetting his own precious backyard? I have no answers. But I believe engagement equipping yourself with news, and finding out what you can do as a citizen are important steps towards not repeating the mistakes of 2014. Keep your eyes and ears open. All our children deserve to live: those who are born in boutique hospitals and those who lie in the rusting cradles in government ones where the midwives slap a delivering mother. We all deserve life.

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