Pay closer attention to our children
Muzaffarpur highlights the lack of basic health facilities for the poor. Fixing this must be a priorityUpdated: Jun 23, 2019, 19:40 IST
A large section of politicians take pride in saying that from 2005 to 2015, India freed 27 crore people from the curse of poverty and the percentage of poverty has reduced from 50% to 28%. If this is true, then why do so many poor people die untimely deaths each year, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir? Are we living in such a boastful world in which the truth has become more dependent on statements than on facts?
The children dying of encephalitis in Muzaffarpur exposed the truth behind these figures; the truth about poverty in India. Amid sloganeering about the eradication of poverty, it remains true even today that 36 crore Indians are deprived of basic facilities with regard to health, nutrition, education and sanitation. Unfortunately, the Hindi speaking states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh top the charts in this regard.
More than half of the India’s poor live in these four states. Ergo, it is not surprising then that even flies and mosquitoes are causes of their deaths.
According to the Global Nutrition Report released last year, 24% of the world’s total malnourished population resides in India. Of the total malnourished children, 30% live in India.
Unsurprisingly , deaths of this kind get significant media attention. But as it goes with both the media and politics, the agenda is bound to shift from one priority to the next. So, these illnesses continue to spread.
Let’s take the case of Muzaffarpur. TV cameras flashing their logos on screens across the country have been coming out with new “truths” and facts since the tragedy gained traction. While some are taking doctors to task, others project nurses’ statements as the universal truth. In an attempt to highlight the tragedy by ensuring that the issue of these deaths reaches the power centres of both Patna and New Delhi, many have turned this into a spectacle. Parents and relatives have lost their young ones, and it is important that the media ensures more sensitivity, caution and empathy. They must understand the plight of the families while they are reporting.
Now, let’s look at the politicians. The Janata Dal United and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition is in power in Bihar. The leaders of this coalition should have shown some seriousness at this hour of urgency but sadly, they did not. One minister said that this disease has been caused by eating Litchi while another even asked the score of the India-Pakistan cricket match during a press conference held to discuss this issue. The Muzaffarpur Member of Parliament (MP) Ajay Nishad went so far as to even blame the deaths of over 100 children on “4G” — Gaon (village), Gandagi (uncleanliness), Gareebi (poverty) and Garmi (heat). A large number of children who died of encephalitis belonged to Muzaffarpur district, which he represents. 90.14% of the total population of this district is part of the district’s rural population. 24% people of the population here live below the poverty line. These are the figures from the 2011 census. As far as uncleanliness is considered, Muzaffarpur slid down 39 notches to 387th place compared to the 348th place in 2018.
Now the heat: During the months of May and June, the temperature of the district is around 45 degrees. While the MP has little to no control over the temperature of the region, the responsibility for eradicating or at the very least reducing poverty and uncleanliness definitely rests on his shoulders. When a ruckus erupted over his statement, the MP explained that it was misconstrued. This justification is not enough.
He must explain what he has done in his capacity as an MP to eradicate poverty during his tenure, along with his efforts to make the region clean. This is Mr Nishad’s second stint as an MP. He, along with older, more senior representatives of Muzaffarpur must bring out a white paper on this.
Unfortunately, this is not just a problem in Bihar. The condition is the same in almost half of the country. The curse of poverty forces a large section to die avoidable deaths every day. The number of people dying in extreme weather conditions is increasing every year. There is nothing that the poor can escape. Their conditions make them vulnerable, with extreme heat and extreme cold being a continuous struggle. Even the lack of access to basic facilities (in this case, even a hospital) has led to parents mourning the deaths of their children.
A lot has to be done to ensure that their needs become a top priority for the government, even after the TVs stop reporting on them. There’s an old saying —”The poor dies in every situation.” But how long will we continue to wash our hands of our duty to protect our children by simply turning such tragedies into sayings and idioms?