A CANOPY MOST FATAL - The mass death of babies has left the health minister's chair untouched

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  • Published 8.09.02

On August 30, Sheikh Ahmed Nasiruddin was picked up on charges of power theft. On Monday, he was released on bail. The jailer wasn’t found to set him free. On Tuesday, he was dead in the lock-up. “The deceased was an alcoholic,” said the police. Simultaneously, the “appalling” death of dozens of babies and children was brushed aside as “normal”. Meanwhile, the media, including the BBC and CNN who headlined the “massacre”, made the issue hit the fan, as it deserved to.

The flamboyant act of resigning from a ministerial berth whenever disaster strikes has been an example of theatrical sophistry in the circus of clowns who govern this nation — with, of course, a very few notable exceptions like Lal Bahadur Shastri. But our own health minister, Surjya Kanta Mishra, resorted to no such natak, but instead, slipped into his armour of unaccountability and segregated objectivism. What a shame. What a disgrace.

As we cling to the threadbare hems of Tagore, Teresa and Ray; as we hang from the bootstraps of Vivekanandan morality, and are dragged through the muck of “isms” regurgitated on our streets, I am reminded of Manik Bandopadhyay’s concept of how poverty dehumanizes and uncivilizes man. A City of Joy. Indeed. The systematic hype of this patronizing sobriquet and the disinformation spread by spin-intellects (of all persuasions) has led us to believe we are smiling at adversity while Dominique Lapierre marvelled at and wrote about the grin that stays suspended in disbelief even after man’s ignoble disappearance into squalor and deprivation.

A glance at the newspapers will tell you exactly what Calcutta is known for and why Mother Teresa has been globally canonized as the Saint of the Gutters and why Rome has been asked to investigate if she did anything to alleviate the condition of the poor or just took care of the sick and dying and needed them to further a sentimentally-moral cause.

Steven Waugh comes to Calcutta for Udayan; Melanie Griffith hosts a dinner in Beverly Hills for Sabera, born out of a foundling from our city’s garbage dump; Mithun Chakravarty showcases thalassaemia; Amartya Sen is eulogized for his insight into famines and, through it all, our social revolution fizzles out and the proletariat bleed.

We moved from an era of Absolutism, where the “divine right of Kings” coupled with clerical obscurantism, in other words, “God and his representatives on Earth”, were the centre of all life, not human beings, most of whom were legally relegated to the status of “non-persons”.

The capitalist class placed human endeavour at the centre of all enterprise, crushing the former rule of absolute monarchs. Tragically, the very nature of the capitalist class led it to establish a system that only partially eliminated the role of privilege. Bourgeois equality did not enshrine the equality of all human beings, but replaced feudal privilege and rights with bourgeois privilege and rights. The great thinker and revolutionist Karl Marx predicted the resolution of this contradiction (along with the worship of a new divinity — private property) by a working class struggle that was gathering momentum.

The horrors being perpetrated right under the noses of our elected leaders (who assume feudal positions, having risen from allegedly blue-collared circumstances) is a monumental slur on the philosophy of Marx and the ideals of Marxist-Leninist ideologies. It was the communists who flayed capitalism by dubbing it a system that flourishes by turning into commodities all that has been held to be most precious: “human beings, their thinking, their intellect, their persona, their myriad products”.

That a centre which bears the name of one of Bengal’s great visionaries, Bidhan Chandra Roy, should have been reduced to a living morgue is an incomprehensible reality that this generation would never find an answer for — nor the next, for they simply die like flies in a leprotic world. Bidhan ke dilo?

That the hospital superintendent Anup Mandal should be censured for the neglect that was being perpetrated is understandable. That it had gone unreported to higher authorities is hogwash. In any case, it is the direct responsibility of the health minister to keep an eye on hospitals and be answerable for their general administration.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken more than one bold stand recently to stick a finger in the eyes of his party leaders and colleagues at the Writers’ Buildings to point out the direction that New Communism must take, in order to ensure that the social revolution which had been reduced to a farce, translates into positive action for the millions in Bengal whose state makes us all bow our heads in shame.

And our dear old reverend Jyotibabu came out of the cold to chastise the health minister (forgetting the fact that it is his legacy of fractured revolutions and a corrupt administration and loathsome neglect of health and educational programmes that he palmed off with finesse as he fox-trotted in pumps around Rashtrapati Bhavan). Mr Basu is the one who watched and encouraged everything to go to seed and putrefy in the face of a hapless proletariat who innocently believed our crumbling bhadrata and disgraceful inefficiency and ineptitude in running industry and institutions was an imperialist machination.

That Buddhadebbabu, in all humility, called a spade a spade shows he is made of better stuff than the arrogant man we knew a few years ago. That he took the time to stay and study the situation and initiate remedial steps shows our chief minister is concerned — in spite of the justifiable criticism that has hit his government between the eyeballs this past week.

But what I fail to understand is how, in the face of such social carnage — I can call the massacre of innocents nothing else — he did not ask his minister of health to resign gracefully instead of smearing the entire cabinet with such shame and ignominy. In any administration, anywhere, Dr S.K. Mishra would have been charge-sheeted and sacked. Surely the communists can set an example to the rest of the nation by being the first ones to have the courage to do for the people what must be done.

We have in Bengal, not a progressive society that becomes more equal everyday but a rotten and disillusioned army of unemployed; increasing impoverishment of millions and a formation of a sub-human species whose members accept their demeaning lot like bonded slaves of an era that the world has long forsaken and almost forgotten.

What species of man, I ask (for it’s sheep that graze in hospital compounds), would capitalize on death and suffering and string up loudspeakers at a hospital’s gate to blare more inanity than we can any longer digest. Appeals from doctors and mothers whose children were crying hysterically because of the distorted cacophony of sounds of fury that have never signified anything, fell on deaf ears of young activists whose uncivilized behaviour is a statutory warning to us all about just how awsabbho we have become.

What springs to mind are the mournful and prophetic words of Shakespeare that lay bare the festering agonies of India’s most gentle and gentlemanly of people — the Bangali: this morning are gentility and nobility “fled away and gone,/ And in their steads do ravens, crows, and kites [and a hammer and scythe]/ Fly o’er our heads and downward look on us,/ As we were sickly prey. Their shadows seem/ A canopy most fatal, under which/ Our army lies, ready to give up the ghost.”