The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The savagery continues in Calcutta. Another person has died in another government hospital, within a couple of days from Shabana Parveen’s death. The cause, as expected, is inhuman, indeed monstrous, indifference — not just one person’s, but of an entire chain of personnel at the hospital, implicating everybody, from a ward boy to the health minister. Susmita Biswas was the victim of a collective crime committed in a polity where such things have become so much a matter of course that it is now part of the texture of normality. In effect, such orchestrated and state-endorsed murder of the utterly defenceless is not that different from genocide. It is just that Gujarat and Bengal have found different ways of doing it. In Bengal, the politics and the pace of things have always been different. In Susmita Biswas’s case, the entire sequence of events reads like a series of killings. After the resident medical officer examined her and referred her to the emergency ward for transfusion, it took the SSKM hospital about seven hours to put her on oxygen, that too when it was too late to make any difference for her condition. In this interval of time, a series of professionals treated her and her family in a manner for which the word “inhuman” is perhaps too refined to communicate the extent of the abomination. The visiting physician, the doctors at the emergency ward and the surgeon superintendent’s deputy all became part of the chain of brutality which culminates in the behaviour of the ward boy, who pulled off her oxygen mask, instructed by a doctor.

An inquiry team has been put together to investigate the incidents; the chief minister and the health minister have asked for separate reports. This is usually what happens. The problem is that nobody here is outside the system. The difference between a ward boy ripping off the oxygen mask from a critically ill patient and a health minister who pays fleeting visits, hedged with evasive rhetoric, to the scene of crime is not one of kind, but of degree. One is not even sure, in this case, if there is a difference of degree. This is a brutal government, employing a brutal minister to oversee the work of brutal doctors, who, in turn, instruct brutal staff. The evil is systemic and systematic.

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