Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cameron's apology could have made sense

It would have been commendable had the British prime minister David Cameron directly apologised for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.  On his visit to Amritsar on his recent state visit to India, Mr Cameron termed the massacre as 'a deeply shameful event in British history'.

His gestures of bending on his knees and maintaining a minute silence were good- many see it as indirect apology, but such actions, however great they may be, can never be a replacement for ‘sorry’.

Cameron invoked then secretary of state for war Winston Churchill when he quoted his 1920 remark where Churchill had termed the event as "monstrous”. However, history will  indicate that General Dyer was never really punished for the gruesome killing. He had a premature retirement, which earned him sympathy from then British gentry in India. Dominique Lapierre’s Freedom at Midnight illustrates that funds were raised by the British elite in private parties to compensate for Mr Dyer’s premature retirement.

As a nation, India has been simply great in coming to terms with history. Indians have never really hated Britain or demonized the country in its history books. There has never been anti- Britain sentiments on events like Indian Independence Day. Indians by and large admire Britain; millions look at it as its natural partner in the West. Thousands of students flock to the UK for studies, businesses love to invest there. Britain too in return welcomed millions of Indians, and has around 1.5 million subjects of Indian origin.

An apology at the holiest city for Sikhs, where Brigadier- General Dyer mercilessly killed thousands of peaceful protestors could have been purely a non political, yet Britain would be forgiven for its 200 years of subjugation of India.

Britain would have won the hearts of Indians; David Cameron a hero! It would have greatly strengthened the ‘special relationship’ between the two great nations.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Uterus removed by mafia doctors?

As we travel 250 kilometers south of Delhi into the colourful state of Rajasthan, the colours become obvious: we drive through the lush green fields of countryside. From a distance, the fields seem to be sprinkled with colours. As we move closer, we see women working in the fields - clad in bright yellow and orange.

We stop in a village where peace and tranquility seem to be the order – it’s serene and pristine. We see women pumping water from tube-wells, men sitting on wooden string beds smoking hookah on the front yard, buffalos gazing lazily. Little can one imagine that behind the serenity, a silent crime against women were systematically committed.

We meet Prem Devi – a woman in her late thirties. She narrates how her uterus was removed from her body: “I had a pain in my stomach. I went to the nearest town to a private doctor. They told me that I have cancer, and said if my uterus is not removed, I will die. I was nervous.I was asked to organize Rs15000 (around $300) and get admitted as soon as possible. I borrowed the money and underwent an operation.’

She complains her pain never subsided after the surgery. Occasionally, she has swollen eyes, which she blames on the operation that she believes she was duped into.

She says: ‘ there was nothing wrong with my uterus. The doctors simply wanted to make money. We are poor people, we trusted them, we no longer trust doctors.’  

Like Prem, hundreds of women were forced into hysterectomy in the area by the private doctors in order to make some quick money.

A local lawyer and consumer right activist Mr Durga Prasad Saini from the neighboring Dausa first raised the matter with the authorities. He shows us hospital reports that he demanded from the five local hospitals under India’s right to information act.  We notice that almost 90 % of the surgeries were that of hysterectomy.

Failing public health service

Mr Saini tells that the private hospitals in the area mainly targeted women from four back ward castes. These women, he says, are illiterate and poor. The private hospitals mainly employ people of the targeted communities, who act as agents in the villages or sometimes even act as local doctors. When a woman complains about an illness, these agents direct them to the district hospitals. He calls it a ‘scandal’ run by ‘mafia doctors’.

A local journalist tells us that that the government hospitals don’t have any gynecologist, so women are forced to go the more expensive but better equipped private hospitals.

Mr Saini further tells is that until last year there was no law in Rajasthan to control the ever-mushrooming private clinics, but now the government has enacted a clinical establishment law to check the private clinics.

We speak to doctor R K Dhakar, owner of Madhur hospital in Bandikwe. His hospital has been accused of carrying out large number of surgeries. It is also one of the hospitals that refused to give out any information about the surgeries they conduct under the right to information act.

we join local men to smoke hookah 
Dr Dhakar refutes the allegation. He points out that the private health care is needed because public health care systems don’t have the infrastructure or doctors.

He says that the allegations are ‘politically motivated’ as the right to information was filed by a man who can’t even write.  We attempt to speak to another hospital but the doctor there refused to meet us.

Back in the village we ask the men about the situation of their women, who seems to be doing all the hard work, whist they simply smoke hookah.

They laugh and tell me “We go around in the bikes, smoke hookahs and love politics- we don’t do any work, we are men.”


Saturday, 9 February 2013

No dawn for the midnight’s children

Deepa Mehta's adaption of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children gives a panoramic view of the troubled history of the sub-continent. Central to the film’s theme are the less privileged children born on that fateful day on the stroke of midnight when India was born. 

Though the fate of this country has changed over the last six decades; the fate of millions of poor Indian children remain unchanged. India is a home to the world’s largest malnourished children, and the country has desperately failed to provide safety and security to its children.

In the recent Delhi gang rape case, there is debate about the handing out harsher punishment to one of the rapists, who is a minor. Many have appealed for making an exception to the case and urged not to treat the convict as a juvenile. Child activist Nicole Rangel writing in The Hindu has passionately argued that the minor rapist must be given a chance to rebuild his life. Whilst his crime is horrendous, it also must be noted that we as a nation failed to protect his childhood. She notes that he has had ‘no interface with the state’, and he has never been given an opportunity to aspire for a different life. She asks should he be given a chance for reformation?

The answer is ‘yes’.  By reforming him and by inducting him into the main stream he could, potentially, in the future be instrumental in showing the right path to many other poor children living in depravity. His reformation process should be a long and well worked out process. It should be a part of a larger investment to create effective systems to safe guard children in India.

On the other hand, taking care of our children is the not responsibility of the government alone. The civil society also has a duty. In India, most middle class families employ domestic workers. For those who are well -off should try and invest in the education of the children of the people they employ.

Bringing in a law to that effect for domestic workers’ rights may be a dream, but the people of India, who have been rightly demanding for greater security of women following the Delhi gang rape, have also the moral responsibility to fix the society.  Innovative measures like tax rebate by the government for a family that pays for the welfare of the children of the people they employ at home could act an inducement.

The poor in this country, especially the children need our help. It is a mammoth task but the ripples of change can be created if the civic society, the government and the NGOs join hands. Hanging a minor is not an answer. If criminals in this country can be politicians, why should a minor be deprived be change to reform? We owe him this for a better future for this country.