In 1994-95, when a Mumbai tabloid broke the horrific story of a nationwide kidney transplant racket, you and I did not have access to the Internet, there were hardly any news channels (there still aren’t many; most ‘news’ channels are B-grade entertainment service providers) and newspapers did all the talking. That story did become a national talking point, but there was hardly any evidence of any follow-up by the media once the issue died.
In 2008, the story is a bit different. When the media broke the story of another nationwide kidney racket run from a clinic in Gurgaon, news websites, global television channels, bloggers and video sites were all over the story. Television clips from Indian news channels sprung up on YouTube, and journalistic organisations around the world have latched on to it.
For instance, the New York-headquartered South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) featured on its website, along with the current debate on organ donation in India, two videos related to the widespread illegal kidney transplant phenomenon in India. One is a National Geographic documentary that follows the story of Malika who, driven by poverty, wants to sell her kidney for $3500 (around Rs. 1.4 lakh). She is ultimately paid only $700 (Rs 28,000), but her kidney is sold to a rich recipient for $40,000 (Rs 16 lakh).
One year after she donated her kidney, her son comes down with a severe case of jaundice, and is left with damaged kidneys. Malika is unable to donate her kidney, and has to watch her son suffer.
The second story is produced by Journeyman Pictures, which follows a Thai couple to Ahmedabad where the wife receives a kidney through illegal means. The wife died later in the hospital after the transplant went horribly wrong.
The same video features a factory worker who earns six times his pay by donating his kidney and another who sells his kidney to raise money for his daughter’s wedding.
One of the phenomenal things about video sharing is this: you are no longer invisible. Even as Dr Amit Kumar, the kidney racket mastermind, is on the run, he would also not take heart from the fact that his ‘celebrity’ status is no longer restricted to India alone. Thanks to YouTube, he is now a global embarrassment for the country.