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MORTAL FEARS

State-sponsored terror could be of many unexpected kinds. It would not be unduly sensationalist to talk in such terms about the kind of violence West Bengalís government hospitals regularly administer to those who are forced to avail themselves of their services. Medical negligence and callousness also amount to a form of criminal violence against the economically and politically disempowered. Such a crime implicates not only the entire hospital hierarchy, its medical, paramedical and administrative personnel, but also the barely distinguishable state and party machinery which fosters, protects and battens on a healthcare system founded on murderous callousness, ineptitude and corruption. Rajnis Patel ó killed by a team of doctors, medical students, nurses and other hospital staff who tried to treat his fractured shinbone ó has come to embody the terrible human cost of such concerted criminal negligence. Similarly, his surgeon at Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital, who has been suspended after the probe into Patelís case, has come to stand for the ďactionĒ taken by the hospital, and therefore by the health department, in response to such a tragedy. But what such single instances gesture towards is the immensity of the real picture that remains unknown and unaddressed. Apart from the suspended surgeon, a whole chain of criminally irresponsible and ignorant behaviour remains unpunished and therefore rampant. If a metropolitan hospital fosters such conditions of medical mismanagement and unhygiene, then what about the hundreds of suburban and rural hopsitals and health centres tucked away from the eye of the media and other vigilant bodies or individuals' Doctors, nurses, cleaners, paramedics and administrative staff in all these places must be regularly getting away with this kind of murder on a scale that must be impossible to gauge, simply because these things are happening out of sight and to people who are seldom in any position to publicize, or even be aware of, what is being done, or not done, to them.

There must also be something fundamentally rotten about the stateís system of medical education, if it could have allowed its students to repeatedly butcher a patient like Patel in the name of learning how to be good surgeons. Patelís death is not an isolated incident. Multiple cot-deaths, and the numerous cases of botched-up operations, post-operative neglect and wrong treatment registered with the Indian Medical Association are testimony to the general scenario of a pervasive and multi-level failure of organization and accountability. A single death brought to the publicís notice is only the tip of an iceberg. The actual scale of the nightmare that is West Bengalís health sector is fast becoming too horrible to confront.

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