Bharat to India, 100 km

By Uma Sudhir

In the last week of August, I travelled to `Bharat’, about 100 km from Hyderabad. To a district called Nalgonda. A district that in my journalistic experience has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. I first reported on it in 1994 when I was with `The Times of India’ in Delhi. The story was on human beings so deformed and crooked that they look almost like extraterrestrial beings. The reason : there was fluoride in the groundwater and no government was concerned enough to provide safe drinking water. I feel abashed to say that I won a United Nations award for my report but the story on the ground remains the same even today. Little has changed.

In 1999-2000, when an international baby-selling adoption racket was unearthed in Hyderabad, NDTV traced that the newborn baby girls were being `bought’ for a few hundred rupees from the tribal belt of Nalgonda district to be `sold’ to international clients for a few lakh rupees.

This time I was in Nalgonda, ten days after India celebrated its 63rd birthday. Just in those ten days, three baby girls had been given away as unwanted, just in one cradle set up by the government in one primary health centre in Devarakonda in Nalgonda district. This time the babies were being given to the Government of India.

All three babies were at Nalgonda’s General Hospital, I was told. We sought the permission of the RMO to take in our camera. She obliged. Not that it looked like there would have been anyone to stop us even if we had ventured in without permission. We passed through long, depressing, dirty and stinking corridors that opened into dingy wards that had patients and attendants sprawled all over, on the beds, some on the floor.

The pediatric ward had neither a doctor nor any other paramedical staff. We asked around and found the little babies we were looking for on a single, dirty bed. My cameraperson tried some switches nearby so he could get some light to capture the frail and angelic faces on camera. But the tubelight was defunct. The cobwebs suggested no one had looked that way in several months.

The ayah from the government’s shishu vihar told me the babies had chest congestion, may be pneumonia. Being denied mother’s milk, despite the mother being alive had robbed these newborns a healthy chance to stay alive.

A woman who had followed us into the ward presumed I was a `powerful’ government officer. She told me her sister-in-law was childless and desperate for a baby and sought my help so that one of the orphan babies here could be handed over to her. I told her that was illegal and they would have to apply for adoption. Even as I said that I realised that if someone were to smuggle out one of the babies, no one would have even noticed.

If one of the babies fall off the bed and suffer an injury for life, contract an infection and need tender loving care in addition to medical attention, they probably do not stand a chance. Anything can happen to these babies. No one would be any the wiser. Does anyone really care if they are hungry, lonely, let down, alive or dead?

Two days later, I saw the India of the 21st century that probably inspired BJP’s spin doctors to coin the `India Shining’ campaign in 2004. I had an appointment with an orthopedic at Apollo Hospitals International Block in Hyderabad. I could very well have been in any of the European countries. Plush, neat, elegant. The girls wo-manning the help desk were in attire very similar to Kingfisher airhostesses. Dr Raghava Dutt who I had gone to meet said, indeed this is a wonderful facility.

Outside I saw a familiar Page 3 socialite with a diet coke in hand, being taken around by the hospital staff. He looked every inch mighty impressed with the facility and I am sure, would pitch for it with his international clients during his trips abroad.

I shared with Dr Dutt my anguish at what I had seen in Nalgonda. At what a contrast the two worlds are. Dr Dutt said he would earn just 16000 rupees every month if he worked in a government hospital anywhere in `Bharat’. And this was one of the leading orthopaedics in the country speaking. No wonder, I did not find a single doctor at that hospital in Nalgonda.

As I was leaving the hospital, I found a busy Arabic translation desk, attending to clients from the Middle East. The modern face of medical tourism, always at your service.

Nalgonda district is the `Bharat’ from where Jaipal Reddy got elected to the last Lok Sabha from Miryalguda constituency. This is the `Bharat’ which gave Andhra Pradesh its home minister Jana Reddy in the last government and the IT and sports minister in the present dispensation. Have none of them seen how desperate for attention this `Bharat’ is?

In 1996, some 480 villagers filed nominations for the Lok Sabha elections for the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat. Why? They wanted the government to implement a drinking water project for the fluoride-affected villages. The presence of nearly 500 candidates necessitated a giant-sized ballot paper in the pre-EVM era. Nalgonda made national news. It is 13 years since that election. Not much has changed. And four Lok Sabha polls later, `Bharat’ still remains `Bharat’.

How do I say Mera Bharat is Mahaan?

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About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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