NEW DELHI: Ignominous death is entrenched into the social psyche of Kalahandi in Orissa — where starvation, deprivation and poor healthcare have pushed the populace to the borderlines of survival
Odisha bears witness to an affront to human dignity … twice over. First, the inhuman nonchalance that greeted the dead at the state hospital in Kalahandi. The second must be the fact — buttressed with visuals — that a husband had to carry his wife’s body on his shoulders to the cremation ground for no apparent reason other than the short shrift accorded by the district health administration and the authorities of Bhawanipatna Government Hospital. It will be hard for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to dispel the dominant impression — and not merely at the level of the subaltern in an impoverished district — that the administration in Bhubaneswar is attempting to be wise after the event.
In the immediate aftermath of the indignity, one that has provoked an outcry across the state, the chief minister has flagged off the Mahaprayan scheme (free transportation of bodies from government hospitals to residence of the deceased), intended to put in place the hearse facility in all government hospitals. It seeks to formalise the last journey from the place of passing; absence of such transport is anathema in any civilised society. One would have imagined that this is integral to the system as must be so critical a document as the death certificate.
Sad to reflect, that in the case of Amana Dei, who died of TB, Odisha failed and failed disgracefully on both counts. Both the district administration and the health department have sought detailed reports on an indignity that ought never to have happened. Nothing is more routine than an official enquiry, and the one on the death in Kalahandi and the process of the last rites might well get docketed not least because it has come as a grave embarrassment to the state government. The husband had to walk for ten kilometres with his wife’s body. And yet the authorities have given the hospital a clean chit even before an investigation has begun.
Will a few fundamental questions get to be asked and answered? Why wasn’t a vehicle provided to the husband? Patnaik’s assurance that the hearse will henceforth be provided free, at least to the BPL (below poverty line) category, has been advanced after the worst has happened. The claim by the district’s Chief Medical Officer that an ambulance was provided has been binned by the locals. To obfuscate matters, the hospital authorities are now harping on free injectiions and medicines.
Also to be probed is whether the hospital was slow-footed in issuing the death certificate, blaming the husband for not collecting the document. TB has taken its toll on an individual and Odisha’s healthcare system no less.