The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City rallies, baby dies

Calcutta, Oct. 14: Six-month-old Shabana Parveen died yesterday, choked by a rally and without medical attention.

When the Bengal government was arguing in court in favour of the right to rally and the Left Front’s youth were marching on the streets outside on Monday afternoon to save democracy, Shabana was struggling to live.

She lost the struggle — stuck twice in the rally that crippled central Calcutta and rejected by a hospital.

Ashraf Khan and Naseema Begum were taking their child to Medical College and Hospital when they got caught in the rally. They reached the hospital but only to turn back as someone demanded Rs 1,000 for admission, which the young couple did not have.

Shabana died on the way home.

Accompanied by two other family members, Ashraf and Naseema were rushing from Howrah with their dehydrated child but their taxi came to a standstill on Canning Street, from where their destination is no more than 15 minutes’ drive on a normal day.

Gari ghuriye nin, bohut baro michhil cholchhe (Turn back, a big rally is underway),” the driver was told by local residents.

The taxi rolled a few more yards before the driver threw up his arms in helplessness. Ashraf and Naseema waited some more minutes before getting off. With Shabana in Naseema’s arms and the bottle of saline in their hands, the family started to walk towards the hospital.

Main kya karta sahab, bacchchi to mar rahi thi, aur gadi to bilkul nahi chal rahi thi (what could I do, the car was not moving and my child was dying)'” Ashraf said.

Walking with a load comes easy to Ashraf — he pulls carts to make a living.

He comes from the constituency that the CPM claims as its own — the deprived. Opposing Calcutta High Court’s ruling restricting rallies on weekdays, the party and its affiliates had argued that the democratic right of the people to protest had to be upheld. It was people like Ashraf and Naseema, perhaps, that they had in mind as they marched yesterday against Justice Amitava Lala’s order.

With the words of the doctors at Howrah general hospital, where Shabana had been admitted first, ringing in their ears, the couple hurried. “Your daughter’s condition is serious. She is suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea,” the doctors had said, advising a shift to Medical College.

Around 3 pm, they reached the hospital and the outpatient department referred (ticket No. 42/648) them to the paediatric ward. Ashraf was told that his daughter had to be admitted.

“A person approached me and said I have to deposit Rs 1,000 for medicines before the treatment starts. I told him that I had only Rs 400 left with me,” recounted Ashraf.

According to the couple, they pleaded unsuccessfully for a while with the doctors before they decided to head back to Howrah. They thought of admitting her to a nursing home.

For the second time, Ashraf was caught in a jam, caused by the rally. “We had spent a lot on the taxi and took a bus home,” Ashraf said.

“Shabana had stopped moving by the time they reached Howrah,” said Md. Salauddin, a neighbour.

Health secretary Asim Barman said he had no knowledge of the incident and would “find out what had happened”.

The deputy superintendent of Medical College, A. Biswas, said that though “such cases are referred to the Infectious Diseases hospital in Beleghata”, he would find out “why the doctors did not consider this case sympathetically since the girl was in a serious condition”.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government, which runs the hospital, and party let Shabana down twice during the day. The rally pushed her towards death and the health system administered it.

Shabana has disappeared without a trace. She was too young and her parents were too poor to have thought of taking a picture of her.

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