April 27, 2015
April 24, 2015
[Published in Counter Currents.]
Gajendra Singh is not the first farmer to kill himself. 601 others had killed themselves in Maharashtra alone since this January or onset of double Achche Din, or BJP regime, for the state. Before someone wants to jump the gun and dismiss the figure as ‘politics’ let me tell that it does not come from a rival political party or Bikau (easily purchasable) Media as Prime Minister Modi loves to refer to them when the mainstream media stops wagging its tail and get even mildly critical of him. The figure comes Maharashtra State Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Eknath Khadse himself. He added, of course, that only 3 of them are caused by crop failure. How does he know that? He knows that because remaining 598 farmers did not leave a suicide note! Very sensitive, isn’t he?
Gajendra Singh would not be the last farmer to kill himself either. A farmer has killed himself by jumping in front of a train in Alwar, in the same state he came from. Of course Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje did not tweet if prompt action could have saved his life or not, she did not have a Arvind Kejriwal to take the blame for her apathy for farmers she is oath bound to protect.
Please do not rush to conclude that the BJP is the only political party responsible for these suicides, murdrers disguised as suicides in fact. Congress has an equally ignominious record of letting farmers kill themselves. Congress may actually have presided over more than half of some 304,000 recorded farmers’ suicides across India since 1995. Like BJP, it has also ruled Maharashtra that comprises of Vidarbha, the epicenter of these suicides as well as Delhi when the dance of death was at its extreme after 2004.
Gajendra Singh’s death was unique in one respect though. It brought the agricultural crisis ensnaring the countryside straight to Delhi and shut the mouths of those in denial for once and all. It achieved what 601 others who had killed themselves in BJP ruled Maharashtra could not- a tweet from PM Modi himself. It is not a mean task if one recalls how tough it is to get one from Naseeb wala Pradhan Sevak (Lucky Prime Minister). It startled the upwardly mobile middle classes into silence- no, the protesters who used to come to Delhi did never come for dirtying the city and causing traffic jams; they came as they really were distressed. It made them realize that they were not ‘doing politics’ a euphemism for all that has gotten rotten in the republic.
Gajendra Singh’s suicide was unique in another respect as well. It exposed that ‘pretended good will’ does not actually mean a real concern for the people. It busted the myth of a juggernaut called Aam Admi Party much more fiercely than the fratricidal war raging within the party. It laid bare not merely there obsession with a single issue of financial corruption but also the real psyche of the people that run its show.
No, the conspiracy theory propagated by Somanth Bharti, one of its top leaders, was not an anguished and spontaneous reaction. Neither was the one offered by Ashutosh, I do not know why mere mention of his name reminds me of Kanshiram every time, who shamelessly asked if Arvind Kejriwal should have climbed up the tree to save Gajendra, happily forgetting that Kejriwal had actually climbed up electric polls during canvassing for Delhi assembly elections. Nor, finally was post facto defence offered by Sanjay Singh- that AAP leaderships’ intervention could have invoked AAP activists into a fight with the police. It exposed the hypocrisy that makes Kejriwal stop his speech for a Azaan call (don’t invent a sectarian angle in this, he is equally known for Ganga Snan to Poojas) but not a suicide. It exposed not merely one and the same on everything Congress and BJP but sectarianism (though Congress too has orchestrated riots/genocides but it does that opportunistically, not as its core ideology) but also criminal disdain for real Aam Admi’s life.
Gajendra’s death achieved something else too, though not unknown to the people. He showed how the mainstream media, electronic one in particular, can sell anything, even a suicide on camera to defeat the rivals in TRP.
The real message from Gajendra Singh’s suicide, however, is much more sinister than all this. His tragic death exposes, once again, how the state has stopped to listen to non violent protests across the country. Think of even ten percent of 300,000 people picking up arms to protest injustices against them, and one would realize that this is not a small number. It is, in fact, almost 5 times the number of estimated armed hardcore cadre of CPI Maoist, ‘the single biggest internal threat to Indian state’ as per its own admission. Add to this the fact that no armed insurgency of India was born overnight; they all have had a latency period of years, even decades. But once they took center stage, they came to stay. One can merely hope that the state learns its lessons and learns them fast. It should as its track record in containing much smaller insurgencies would send shiver down the spine of anyone capable of estimating the extent of a countrywide peasant insurgency.
Till then, let’s thank Gajendra Singh even if what he did was the most unfortunate. He might not have thought about the plight it would cause not merely to his near and dear ones but also anyone who has even the faintest hint of a hope left in the delinquent democracy that masquerades as the largest one of the world. Let’s thank him for bringing the agricultural crisis center stage, something more than 300,000 deaths could not.
So, dear farmers, kill yourselves in Delhi, preferably in a political meeting of BJP this time, there's no point in committing suicide in Vidarbha or Bundelkhand and become part of yellowing pages of NCRB statistics.
April 23, 2015
Published in the Counter Currents.
Stunned, Speechless or disoriented? I have no clue what to feel about a suicide I saw unfolding on the computer screen in front of me 3 oceans away from where it happened. Gajendra Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan, hanged himself from a tree during an Aam Aadmi Party rally at Jantar Mantar in the heart of New Delhi.
No, I was not in denial like the authorities, I knew that more than 600 farmers have killed themselves in Vidarbha, a part of BJP ruled Maharashtra alone. Being in denial was a prerogative of top bureaucrats and their political masters after all. It was a prerogative of, for instance, Alok Ranjan, Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, a state ruled by opposition Samajwadi Party. While admitting that farmers were in fact committing suicide in Uttar Pradesh Mr. Ranjan had the cheeks to claim that there was no conclusive proof “yet, that any of the suicides that have been reported have anything to do with unseasonal, heavy rains.” That was despite at least 73 recorded suicides from Bundelkhand region alone after the rains and hailstorms.
Farmers are committing suicide all around the country. India where 70 % of its population are small time farmers who are desperately trying to keep their to heads up the flooding waters of debt and crop loss are dying like flies around a lighted lamp. Now, India's farmer's suicide epidemic has come to the nation's capital. Now nobody can deny it. Now nobody can ignore it. This is a nation's death.
That is a prerogative of Union Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh too, who even while admitting in Rajya Sabha on March 20, 2015 that the government’s own statistics pegged the numbers of suicides committed by people 'self employed in farming/agriculture' was 14027, 13754 and 11772 respectively for 2011, 2012 and 2013. Specifically attributing less than 10 percent of these suicides to agrarian crisis was his prerogative too. The numbers, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, if you must know, were pegged at 1066, 890 and 1357 for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. Hiding why did the rest kill themselves and why these numbers are significantly higher than the corresponding figures of ‘general’ population is a prerogative of his and his government, too.
And yes, the Minister also has the prerogative of hiding the fact that these numbers are achieved by the small maneuvering by states like like Chhattisgarh which simply took out some of the farmer suicides out of the "Self-Employed (farming/agriculture)" category and put them into the category of "Self-Employed (Others)'.
In short, farmers’ suicides is something where political stands don’t emanate not from ideology but the status of being in power or in opposition. Farmers’ suicides are anything from conspiracy to personal distress if you are the regime and failure of the state if in opposition.
I, as thousands of other activists like me, had neither any such prerogative nor any reasons to stay in denial so I was writing, to the best of my capacity to expose the crisis engulfing the peasantry. I was trying, to the best of my capacity again, to bring this to the notice of powers that may. I don’t want to repeat how governments from those of UPA to NDA have devised Kill and Compensate Humiliating Policy, I am not up for that. You can read it here, if you must. All I want to talk about here is Gajendra Singh’s suicide and how it exposes us all.
First, about the suicide that busted the denial from all those in power from the centre to state. It was almost like a competition to defeat others in shamelessness. The account was opened by Somnath Bharti, the Law Minister of AAP’s Delhi government who saw a conspiracy in the suicide and tweeted about the same. He, of course, reneged on that tweet in no time, deleted the same and claimed that the tweet’s second part was targeted at contractual teachers opposing his party’s, and government’s Kisan Rally. It is just that he had to be reminded of his grief, and breaking down, by a fellow activist of his party.
He was matched in shamelessness by Ms. Vasundhara Raje in no time who blamed delayed action by AAP for the death of Gajendra Singh happily forgetting that it was apathetic inaction of her government that had pushed Gajendra Singh against the wall and forced him to take his life. She, in turn, was matched by several Congress leaders who had started blaming Modi regime by then, happily forgetting the fact that the blood of more than a 100,000 farmers are on the hands of UPA as well as Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA regimes.
Let us get back to the suicide of Gajendra Singh and ask ourselves why did he had to die? Let us also ask why AAP’s rally continued well after the attempted suicide and why AAP ‘leaders’ like Asutosh (Gupta) and Kumar Vishwas made insensitive statements about the same? Ashutosh had the guts to question media if Arvind Kejriwal should have climbed up the tree to save Gajendra happily forgetting that the same Kejriwal had actually climbed up an electrical pole before elections.
The answers might seem illusive but they are not, in fact. The answer lies in a simple statement- both the political leadership and the civil society has lost the connect with the people, citizens of the country. It is simple, the self designated ‘largest democracy of the world’ has stopped listening to the democratic and peaceful voices of dissent, and of distress on the ground. It would not have been much of an issue had this oblivion limited itself to the regime. But then, it has expanded to us, the people who have organized themselves into a Republic. Are not we the same people who keep complaining about the filth, the traffic jams and what not that protests of the downtrodden and the dispossessed bring to Delhi? We read about all these suicides but from a distance, didn’t we? Are not we the same who want to throw the slums out of city boundaries while clinging to the labour we get from them?
We have all read about the farm crisis killing farmers en masse, haven't we? but then, that was happening far away from us, we were safe from that. Gajendra's suicide brought that crisis right in front of us- in fact right inside our living rooms. Neither do we watch a suicide on camera everyday nor have we gone inhuman in quest for TRP like the media-persons who kept filming the act instead of helping him, after all.
I am ashamed of my republic. I am more so because AAP leadership, that offered a different politics, ended up proving to be worse than the ‘mainstream’ political parties. I am ashamed, more so, of claiming to be a Republic.
Let us accept the fact, that we are a heartless people, a people where a shameless Ashutosh of AAP can try to defend his party’s criminal negligence against an even more shameless BJP (or Congress) for letting a man kill himself in front of thousands, that too on camera.
Having said that, the rally of AAP continued for more than an hour after the suicide. AAP leader, and now Chief Minister, Kejriwal did not bother to stop it then and there. Was not he the same Kejriwal who had, admiringly, stopped his speech to respect a call for Azaan during election campaign? Stopping the speech for respecting Azaan call was ridiculed by the Hindu fanatics but then that was a great gesture for asserting republic's composite culture and need for coexistence. What, then, is message of not stopping his speech despite a man's suicide in front of him? It is not merely a criminal negligence but utter disrespect for the constitution that guarantees the right to life with dignity to all Indians, a right that Mr. CM is oath-bound to protect.
How guilty, though, Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are? Despite their sickening defense of their criminal disdain for life, they are far less guilty than the Congress and BJP who have always practiced a Kill But Never Compensate policy for the farmers.
Need I say more other than thanking Gajendra Singh, posthumously, for exposing all of them by a single act?
April 20, 2015
April 13, 2015
The world’s largest democracy witnessed its police force killing 25 of its citizens in two encounters in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.“Encounters”, for the uninitiated, are a euphemism for killing unarmed civilians in staged gun battles. The police version of both the alleged encounters is such that it could be laughed-off had they not been about the deaths of civilians.
The police version of the first encounter is that newly formed Red-sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force spotted footprints of the “smugglers” and came across around 100 of them felling trees in the Seshachalam Forest at the foot of the Tirumala Hills. Members of the Task Force challenged them to surrender, but the woodcutters responded by pelting stones. The Task Force in turn responded to the raining stones by firing randomly at the woodcutters, which led to death of 20 of them; the rest ran away. “We fired random shots in self-defence”, a taskforce member told the national daily The Hindu on condition of anonymity.
Logs and slippers neatly arranged!
Yes, you have read it right. A “random firing” in response to stone pelting has resulted in the death of 20 woodcutters. One wonders what could have been the toll had the Force targeted the woodcutters in self-defense. Let us forget how disproportionate it is to use bullets for stones, even if the stones were “raining” down. The alleged encounter took place in a jungle after all and trees could have given ample protection till the Task Force was able to gather itself. But then, Indian law enforcers are used to responding to stones with bullets, for instance in Kashmir in 2010, where 112 people were killed. This included many teenagers and an 11-year-old boy. An uncanny question about this encounter is why the Task Force did not arrest a single person from amongst the remaining 80 or so smugglers. So, not even “dead or alive”, the motto seems to have been “dead or nothing” or “take no prisoners”.
If one finds this one strange, wait till you catch up on the details of the second encounter. This one took place in a jail van, where 17 security force members were taking 5 undertrials from Warangal Jail to a Hyderabad court 150 km away. Yes, you read this right too. This encounter happened inside a jail van with all of the undertrials killed, while unarmed and handcuffed to their seats. The police claims, as per a news channel NDTV that Vikaruddin Ahmed, one of the undertrials, asked to be released in order for him to answer nature’s call. Upon his return he tried to snatch a weapon. The police opened fire when other undertrials allegedly tried to snatch weapons too and this led to all of them getting killed!
How could Vikaruddin Ahmed attempt to snatch a weapon from the security personnel, as undertrials are never let-off alone, not even to use the toilet? As standard operating procedure, security personnel always escort undertrials. Furthermore, even if he did attempt to snatch weaponry, how come a 17-member security force failed to overpower him without firing? Were not remaining four, as per their own claims, still handcuffed and unarmed? Finally, while it is impossible to believe this uncanny and highly improbable story, why exactly did the police need to kill the other four undertrials?
The answers to all these questions are rather simple. The victims in the first case were poor tribal youth caught not only in between lucrative offers of easy money but also interstate (and interlingua) rivalries between the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. That they were not real smugglers but merely coolies for the smuggling mafia that enjoys state patronage on both sides of the border is something immaterial for the police, which could shoot them with impunity but will never dare to touch real smugglers. What should be really bothersome, however, is the way almost all of the Indian media carried the story, parroting the police version, including calling those dead smugglers. Most media houses did not bat an eyelid to ask the obvious: why fire on people pelting stones and how come the Force could not arrest a single person.
Victims of the second encounter came from another persecuted minority of India. They were accused of being members of a local terror outfit Tehreek-Ghalba-e-Islam and were suspected of various attacks on the police in Hyderabad, as well as plotting the murder of Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister of India. They were in jail since 2010. In this case too, the media did the same. A few of reports went to the extent of claiming that the gunning down had foiled a terror plot against Mr. Modi. Only later did the skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. The pictures showing the “terrorists” slain while still being handcuffed to their seats make it nearly impossible for the media to keep parroting the police version.
Security forces eliminating people in custody or with impunity in “encounters” is one of the worst kept secrets of India. The Supreme Court, in its order in Criminal Appeal No.1255 OF 1999, has called such killings nothing less than “state sponsored terrorism”. The Court had done so despite recognising the fact that policemen are indeed required to “take to take drastic action against criminals to protect life and property of the people and to protect themselves against attack.” And yet, it set stringent guidelines to be followed as standard operating procedure in cases of encounters. The guidelines begin from the point of a tip off that can lead to such encounters to video-graphing the post-mortem of individuals that happen to die in the process of police work.
What, however, is a Supreme Court order worth that carries no weight for the police. Let us forget the second encounter, as it is simply too frivolous to be true, and check the facts of the first one. Did the Task Force record the tip-off in any diary? Did it file the mandatory FIR following the encounter and forward it to the court under Section 157 of the Code without any delay? Were any of the guidelines fulfilled so that an independent inquiry could reveal facts about the deaths? One of the guidelines requires an investigation by the Crime Investigation Department or a different police station by an officer at least one rank above the involved officer does not make much sense as officers from whatever stations but same police force investigating an encounter is like asking the accused to investigate himself.
The efficacy of a magisterial inquiry, another guideline set by the Court order, is exposed by the one that was conducted in the custodial killing of Thangjam Manorama, a Manipuri village girl, in 2004. The report of the judicial inquiry commission, led by C. Upendra Singh, retired District and Sessions Judge, Manipur, was submitted in December the same year and was never made public until November 2014. The report indicted personnel of 17 Assam Rifles for “brutal and merciless torture” of Ms. Manorama. Yet this has not resulted in the prosecution of any of the accused and the compensation to the family of the victim. Going by the evidence available, the fate of magisterial enquiries, even those that have fulfilled their mandate, cannot be drastically different in other such cases.
This begets another question: are Indian citizens cursed to live with the danger of getting killed by someone obligated to protect their person and property? They may fear more if they come from vulnerable sections of the society. But should they fear less even if they do not?
Till someone takes the responsibility of reforming the criminal justice system of the country all Indians are in danger. A cruel, violent, and unjust system harbouring criminals in uniform will hurt one and all. The Executive is not interested in any such reform as this system serves its interests well. Will the Judiciary take onus to enforce its orders? And, will the civil society of India understand that having good laws and court orders is not real protection for the marginalized or even the mainstream population in such a criminal justice system?
[दैनिक जागरण में अपने कॉलम परदेस से 11 अप्रैल 2015 को प्रकाशित]
मैं कुमारी, यानी नेपाल की जीवित देवी के ठीक सामने खड़ा था. किसी की गोद (सामान्यतः पिता ही लेते हैं) में बैठी कुमारी के पांवों में गिरती भीड़ को देख चकित और स्तब्ध आँखें अगल बगल फिरीं तो तमाम विदेशी लोगों की आँखों में भी वही भाव दिखा. कोई भाव नहीं था तो बस कुमारी की पहले से ही लम्बी होने के बावजूद काजल से और लम्बी कर दी आँखों में. मुझे दुर्गापूजा के दिनों में लगने वाली मूर्तियाँ याद हों आयीं थीं, बस इन आँखों में उन मूर्तियों वाला गुस्सा नहीं एक निस्पृहता थी, ऐसे जैसे भक्ति और कौतूहल के दो बिलकुल अलग भावों वाली आँखें उसके सामने हों हीं न.
पर तब तक कहाँ पता था कि कुमारी हंस नहीं सकती, उनका हँसना नेपाल पर तबाही आने का संकेत होता है. तब कहाँ पता था कि बचपन में चुन ली जाने वाली यह जीवित देवी पैदल नहीं चल सकती, उसके पाँव जमीन पर नहीं पड़ सकते. इसीलिए उसे कुमारी रहने तक, यानी कि मासिक स्त्राव शुरू होने की संभावना के पहले ही नयी कुमारी चुन लिए जाने तक गोद में ही चलना पड़ता है. यह भी कि जीवित देवी ही सही यह बच्ची खेल नहीं सकती. मतलब उसके साथ खेलने वाले बच्चे चुने तो जाते हैं पर उन्हें देवी की हर बात माननी होती है, जो वह चाहे वही करना होता है. जो उसके सामने चढ़ाये गए प्रसाद को हाथ भी नहीं लगा सकती क्योंकि यह भी तबाही लाता है.
आखिर में यह कि जिसकी जिंदगी नयी देवी चुने जाते ही बलगभग ख़त्म हो जाती है. वह शादी नहीं कर सकती, क्योंकि लोग मानते हैं कि उससे शादी करने वाला मर जाएगा. वह नौकरी नहीं कर सकती क्योंकि पूर्व कुमारी कि शक्तियों से पंगा कौन मोल लेगा. कुमारी बनने का मतलब यह कि फिर जिंदगी इन्दर जात्रा के समय को छोड़ कर कुमारी बहल में जिंदगी सिमट के रह जाना है.
हाँ, यह इन्दर जात्रा का समय ही तो था जब जाने क्यों मैं आदतन ही दरबार स्क्वायर चला आया था. तमाम बार महीनों रह लेने के बाद अपने शहर से ही हो गए काठमांडू की इन दो जगहों से यह अनजान लगाव कभी समझ नहीं आया. क्या है जो मुझे पशुपतिनाथ मंदिर के पीछे बागमती नदी के तट पर बने शमशान घाट और कुमारी बहल यानी कि कुमारी घर की तरफ खींचता रहता है. पहली फुर्सत मिली नहीं कि दोस्त की स्कूटी उठाकर इनमें से कहीं एक पंहुच गए.
कुमारी घर... एक भव्य ईमारत जिसके सामने यूं तो रोज ही भीड़ होती है कि कुमारी के दर्शन हो जाएँ पर इन्दर जात्रा का तो पूछना ही क्या. उस इन्दर जात्रा में जिसमें तीन दिन कुमारी जात्रा के होते हैं जब कुमारी अपने साथी गणेश और भैरव के साथ तीन रथों पर शहर की तीन दिशाओं में यात्रा पर निकलती हैं और हर तरफ उन्हें देखने का, उनका आशीर्वाद पा जाने का उन्माद होता है. कुमारी के पांवों में गिरती भीड़ में से कोई टकराया तो अचानक ख्यालों की दुनिया से लौट आया था. कुमारी थोड़ा आगे बढ़ आयीं थीं पर थीं अब भी सामने ही. पता नहीं नजरें मिलीं थीं या नहीं, कहा ही उनकी आँखों में कोई भाव नहीं तिरता, वे आपके पार देख रही होती हैं. या शायद देखने को प्रशिक्षित की गयी होती हैं.
मैं अक्सर कुमारी घर के सामने वाले मंदिर की सीढ़ियों पर बैठ जाता था, सोचते हुए कि देवी चुने जाने के बाद तांत्रिक अनुष्ठानों को पूरा कर इस मंदिर से सफ़ेद कपडे पर अंतिम बार पैदल चलते हुए उस छोटी से बच्ची के मन में क्या रहता होगा? क्या सोचती होगी वह चारों तरफ भरी हुई भीड़ को देखकर? यह आता होगा होगा उसके दिमाग में कि अब से देवी न रहने तक के तमाम सालों में उसके पाँव जमीन पर नहीं पड़ेंगे? वह हंस न सकेगी?
यह भी कि एक नेवाड़ी, मतलब बौद्ध, लड़की हिन्दू देवी कैसे बन जाती है? कल तक हिन्दू राष्ट्र रहे नेपाल का विष्णु अवतार माना जाने वाला राजा उसके पांवों में सर क्यों झुकाता होगा? और झुकाता ही है तो फिर उस देवी का नेवाड़ी पुजारी भी क्यों होता है? पर सबसे दिलचस्प सवाल यह आता था कि माओवादियों ने सत्ता में आने के बाद यह प्रथा खत्म करने की जगह चालू क्यों कर रखी है? अपने कुमारी घर के लगभग सामने पंहुच चली कुमारी देवी को देख कर चेहरे पर मुस्कान खिल आई थी. 2008 में तीन साल की उम्र में इस देवी मतीना शाक्या को माओवादियों ने ही ही पदारूढ़ किया था. माओवादियों द्वारा स्थापित की गयी देवी, इस बार मैं खिलखिला के हंस ही पड़ा था।
April 08, 2015
|Photo: A woman cooking rice in the village of Melsanakuppam|
in Tamil Nadu, South India. UN Photo/P. Sudhakaran
[This is an AHRC Statement]
India has never been known for investing in the health of its citizenry. The nation’s public expenditure on health hovers around 1% of its gross domestic product; it is among the lowest in the world. This makes the recent decision to slash the health budget by 20% appalling.
The move will not just deflate citizen health; it will inflate poverty.
India carries the grotesque burdens of both extremes of income. While its rapidly growing middle class and rich are being hit by life style diseases, the lower strata continues to suffer from diseases related to poverty. And, while there is rapid growth in the private medical sector – with even conservative estimates pegging it at 15% per year – the decline in the public health system is equally drastic. Most primary and community health centres, i.e. the mainstay of poor people’s access to healthcare, are in disarray, with the few quality specialty public hospitals strained to breaking point.
The proposed cuts will hit the poor hardest. It is a known fact that – given the virtually nonexistent social security or health insurance cover – most health expenditure in India, especially for the poor, is out of the pocket expenditure. Studies have shown that medical emergencies are often the primary reason behind poor families slipping into destitution and/or debt bondage. And, the government is fully aware of this fact.
The draft of the government’s own national health policy estimates that “catastrophic” expenditure on healthcare neutralizes any gains made by rise in income and social welfare benefits targeted to reduce poverty, forcing 63 million Indians to face poverty every year.
The draft also indicates how medical expenditure is significantly higher in rural areas – itself an indictment of urban centric health infrastructure. The data also exposes the increasing burden of healthcare expenditure correspondent to cuts in public expenditure on health. The draft policy notes that 18% of all households faced catastrophic expenditure on healthcare in 2011-12; this represents a 3% rise from 2004-05 figures.
The concerns are reciprocated by other studies: the real life prevalence of malnutrition, for instance. A recent UNICEF study found that every year more than a million children under 5 die due to malnutrition related causes. The numbers are far above the emergency threshold guidelines of the WHO and require the Indian state to recognise acute malnutrition as a medical emergency. Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of malnutrition deaths, with severe wasting and stunting causing lifelong health problems for survivors.
Add to this a toll of 5.5 lakh deaths due to tuberculosis, most forms of which are easily curable; tuberculosis is often contacted by the poor due to poor living and working conditions. Malaria kills another 1.2 lakh annually. Most of the people who perish to these diseases are poor while the government keeps focussing on the state of the art hospitals for tertiary care catering to the lifestyle diseases, or the diseases of the rich. It is high time for the government to rethink and re-strategize its health policy with a holistic approach linking sanitation and clean water, at the least, to primary health care.
The government should be increasing the expenditure on health instead of cutting it so drastically. Fiscal strains or not, it makes no slash expenditure on healthcare only to be forced to spend much more on fighting diseases and poverty both.