The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bad blood

Sir — It barely seems credible that the tampering of blood sample checking kits by Govind Sarda could have been possible without the knowledge of the state health department officials at various levels, or without the active support from one and all. That very few purchase-and-procurement departments of the state government can compete with the one belonging to the health ministry in terms of corruption is not news anymore. But this time it has surpassed all its previous records by committing a crime which must have already put thousands of human lives at risk. Initially, the faulty kits were supplied with fake expiry dates, but later the supplier did not need to bother to do even that since the entire system was on its payroll. It would be too much to expect that the health minister can do much more than form a committee to investigate, and finally, put the blame on a few scapegoats from the lower-level employees who must have received a tiny fraction of the booty.

Yours faithfully,
Asit Kumar Mitra, Calcutta

Sir — It is indeed mysterious that none of the people who received the infected blood, supplied by Govind Sarda’s company, Monozymes India, at the government medical stores found anything suspicious (“Not to care”, Oct 6). When those kits were sent to various hospitals, not only in Calcutta but also in the districts, no hospital staff noticed that the kits were past their expiry dates. ‘Corruption” is hardly the word to define such a mysterious event. Hundreds of people throughout the state have been complicit in making this scam work. More mysterious is the fact that the fault was only detected after more than a year, and when all the kits supplied by Govind Sarda have been fully used up.

Yours faithfully,
A.Roy Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — “Blood scare for thousands” (Oct 12) is the latest blow to the crumbling healthcare system in the state. After malaria, AIDS, chikungunya, dengue, this bizarre crisis of blood reveals the story of absolute incompetence and apathy on the part of the health administration. In a state where blood donation campaigns are organized by a handful of NGOs with little official support and no professional surveillance, such tragedies were just waiting to happen. The statistics reeled out in the report point to one thing: that West Bengal was found to be the most fertile ground where the unholy alliance between Sarda and heath officials could flourish with impunity. This is not the first time that irregularities have been reported in the system of collecting and storing blood, but the authorities have hardly managed to do anything worthwhile.

Yours faithfully,
Surajit Das, Calcutta

Viewing problems

Sir — Sumit Mitra (“The business of pleasure”, Aug 9) thinks that the proposed Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill (2005) will penalize only the brothel-visiting customers. Perhaps he is not aware of the fact that the new sub-section 5 (c) of the amendment bill seeks to criminalize all customers soliciting sexual services. Criminalizing the customer cannot reduce the demand for sexual services. It would only be driven underground along with the suppliers of sexual services. In this underground sex sector, the grip of the “landlord-local mafia-corrupt policeman” over the sex workers will become incomparably stronger than it is now. Mitra calls for a celebration of the possible future criminalization of all the customers of our “bazaars of cheap, commercial sex”. Is he not aware that the vast majority of Indians can only afford the relatively cheaper goods and services, that too not always'

Mitra is also of the opinion that the amended IT(P)A would be a good instrument for fighting trafficking in human beings. The intention behind the attempt at modifying the IT(P)A is to ‘abolish’ the sex sector and not trafficking. It needs to be pointed out that the abolitionist approach succeeded nowhere in combating trafficking in human beings. Men and women are trafficked because they work at low rates. Supply of trafficked labour depresses the wages of the other workers present in that site of the labour market. That is why only the collectivized workers of a given sector may be motivated to put up an effective fight against trafficking into that sector. This is happening, presently, only in one geographical area of one sector of the Indian economy, in the sex sector of West Bengal, where the workers are putting up organized fight against trafficking through their self-regulatory boards. The presently proposed amendment bill would kill that successful venture. Mitra, it seems, is not aware of the fact that all those who get American government funds for fighting HIV/AIDS are now required to support the United States of America’s neo-conservative agenda aimed at abolishing the sex sector. They are also required to sign a pledge to the anti-prostitution act, abide by the anti-trafficking bill and the anti-abortion law of the US. Non-compliance to the abolitionist approach embodied in the US law will prevent them from accessing any fund from the American government.

Mitra is also under the illusion that the US government is really interested in fighting trafficking in human beings. Several sectors of the US economy will collapse if the flow of cheap labour to the country is stopped. A sizable section of that cheap labour reaches the US through illegal migration and trafficking. Mitra thinks that the mere deletion of section 8 of the IT(P)A, which criminalizes solicitation, will decriminalize sex work and the deletion of section 20 of the act will be beneficial to the sex worker. From definition 2(a) along with sub-section 6 (1) (b) of the act, It will be clear that the legal-sexual puritanism embodied in this act effectively criminalizes all non-spousal, non-marital sexual activities, including all the services provided in our sex sector.

The IT(P)A and the IT(P)A Amendment Bill 2005 are completely at odds with the social reality. According to section 3 of this act, all the homes and work sites of our sex workers are nothing but sites of criminal activities. Further, according to section 4, the parents and adult children of sex workers are also criminals, because the sex workers look after them. The proposed amendment retains these sections. As of now only the collectivized sex workers of some regions of our country are demanding and getting condom-compliance from their partners. The overwhelming majority of our housewives or girlfriends are not yet in a position to persuade their partners to follow safe sexual practices.

Finally, Mitra seems to justify the murder of a call-centre worker, stopping short of calling her an upmarket sex worker. This is downright objectionable and exposes the author’s penchant for contradicting himself.

Yours faithfully,
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Calcutta

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