-By Ruchira Gupta
As the second wave of COVID-19 takes over India, more than 20 million have been infected and at least 220,0000 have lost their lives.
My NGO Apne Aap’s volunteers scramble to get oxygen to the most marginalised women and children in red-light areas and caste ghettoes, even as all of India gasps for oxygen. One team member, who managed to get her mother into an ICU and connected to a ventilator, said it was like winning a lottery. Only one small state – Kerala – has had enough oxygen for its needs. Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja has listened to her people as well as the experts, responded by establishing more oxygen plants and strengthening the health infrastructure.
In contrast, Uttar Pradesh – a state ruled by the BJP- jailed a doctor for speaking publicly about the death of children due to oxygen shortage a few years ago. Today the number of Covid-19 deaths in UP is so high that citizens are unable to find space in crematoriums and are dumping the bodies in rivers.
In August 2017, 63 children died in a government owned hospital in Gorakhpur, a town in UP. The hospital’s oxygen supply was cut off over non-payment of dues to the vendor by the government. Dr Kafeel Khan, a paediatrician at the hospital, spent his own money to buy oxygen cylinders to remedy the situation. But when Dr.Khan spoke to the press, he was arrested for ‘dereliction of duty’ and imprisoned for almost two years. He was released in September 2019, after all charges against him were proven false.
Had the government addressed the issue of oxygen shortage then, instead of staging a much publicised arrest of Dr Kafeel Khan, we might not have faced the huge oxygen shortage today.
The notoriously Islamophobic UP govt killed the messenger, rather than fixing the problem. The virus, however, does not recognize Muslim or Hindu, rich or poor, upper caste or lower caste. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to listen to information from the ground, he needs to listen to expert scientific advice. It is his responsibility to save lives.
As the second wave of Covid-19 has left most of India short of breath, we have food for thought. The virus teaches us that we are interconnected and inter-dependent. We are linked, not ranked. And that is why the 1MillionMeals.org human chain works. We collaborate. Please do join and help at 1MillionMeals.org.