A Lack of Empathy

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By Sandeep Sahu

sandeep sir 1

The sorry spectacle of the poor tribal woman in Kalyansinghpur area of Rayagada district delivering inside a Tata Magic while on her way to the hospital puts the spotlight back on the rickety state of our health care services, especially in the remote, tribal areas of the state. It also reminds us that the much vaunted 102 and 108 ambulance services that were conceived to avoid precisely this kind of a situation have failed the people they were meant for in the first place. They have invariably failed to arrive when they are needed the most.

The woman in Kalyansinghpur is, in a sense, lucky that she did get an alternative vehicle and managed to reach the hospital to ensure that both she and her new born baby survived. But not everyone is so lucky. Many die on the way while others deliver still born babies because they are unable to reach hospital in time.

There are myriad reasons why ambulances don’t reach the needy in time. At most places in interior Odisha, there are too few 108/102 ambulances catering to too many people. As a result, some are bound to miss out on this service. Then there are problems of terrain. Often, the person requisitioning the service lives in too remote an area for the ambulance to reach. Then there are other reasons like a snag in the vehicle, lack of fuel, mobile phones not working, the reluctance of drivers to fetch people at unearthly hours and so on. But not all of these reasons can explain away the spectre of death and disease that stalks these areas in the hinterland.

The sight of Dana Majhi carrying the body of his dead wife on his shoulders seared the conscience of the nation and even the world. It brought heaps of opprobrium for the state government, including a missive from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) seeking an explanation in the matter. But did it prick the conscience of the state government? On the basis of the evidence available so far, the answer has to be an emphatic ‘No’. Far from admitting its failure in providing succour to Dana, the state government has strained every sinew to paint the poor tribal from Melghar village in Kalahandi district as the villain of the piece. “You see, he didn’t inform anyone in the hospital before taking away the body of his wife. So what on earth could we have done?” is the official explanation, which has since been exposed by Dana’s teenage daughter for what it is: a white lie.

Let us, for a moment, discount Dana’s claim that the collector asked him if he had killed his wife because he could have been ‘tutored’ by the leaders of opposition parties, who have descended on his nondescript village like vultures do at the sight of a corpse. But what about the fact that an utterly heartless district administration ‘summoned’ him to do the rounds of various government offices in Rayagada and answer a volley of questions from officials (so that he could get a princely sum of Rs 5, 000 as assistance!) on a day he was preparing to complete the last rites of his departed wife?

It is this lack of empathy that is at the root of almost all problems that bedevil our countryside. After all, if the OTV reporter could arrange a vehicle to carry Dana, his daughter and the body of his dear wife through his efforts, was it such a Herculean task for the district administration – with all the resources at its command – to arrange for a vehicle for Dana?

The fact is no one really cares. Not the man or woman tasked with taking government services to the last mile. Not the district administration that is expected to come to the rescue of people in such situations. And certainly not the government busy drawing up plans to make Odisha the land of milk and honey with the Rs 90, 000 crore ‘Biz Bonanza’ promised at the Investors’ Meet at Bengaluru.

Till this apathy continues, expectant mothers will continue to die on their way to hospital (or deliver on the way), poor men would continue to carry their dead on bicycles, trolley rickshaws or their shoulders and tribals in Kashipur will continue to die after consuming mango kernel gone poisonous.

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