Uttarakhand Snakebite girl dead

Uttarakhand girl’s death by snakebite in quarantine center should trouble us

Guilt? Helplessness? Rage? What does a parent feel when her child dies in front of her? As a parent, I hope and pray I never have to find that out. The thought itself is terrible. It became a harsh reality for Deepa and Mahendra. Like millions of Indians, they were migrants. Along with Anjali, they lived in Delhi. Yes that was her name…Anjali. Remember that. To grieve, you must remember her name. She was six. Anjali died by snakebite in a primary school, where she was quarantined with her parents. Like millions of migrants, Mahendra and Deepa returned to their village. They wanted to escape the heartless realities of The City. They looked for safety and sanctuary in their village. As I look upon the photo of now dead Anjali, wearing her favourite pink T-shirt, the pixels on my screen become blurred. I try and look at her mother, who is holding the lifeless body of the child. I dare not look too closely. I am afraid of her accusing stare, her helplessness, her rage.

The terrible state of medical services is not a secret in our country. It is well known that remote hill villages have no public health infrastructure. The doctors and nurses refuse to be posted even in district headquarters in hills. The stock of medicines is inadequate and the available staff, not very friendly.

The ad-hocism in display regarding quarantine measures in Uttarakhand is shocking. According to rules, home quarantine is acceptable for asymptomatic domestic travellers. That can be done at home, or if there is lack of space, at govt. provided shelters. Uttarakhand is in a unique situation. We have ghost villages here. Such is the condition of migration, that in most villages, at least 20-30% houses are empty. Why were these houses not used{with consent of owners} is a mystery. Some villagers might have objected, but it is administration’s job to convince them and remove the stigma being attached to migrants. Unfortunately, the messaging from leaders or officers at the state level is practically non-existent. Migrants are forced to live not only in dilapidated govt schools, but also in temporary huts in some places.

Coronavirus has painfully exposed us to our inadequacies. Unfortunately, there are no quick solutions. Indeed, as the economic impact of the pandemic becomes clear, it is obvious that lack of capital will lead the things to worsen for a while. It is in out of the box thinking that our salvation lies. We need to ensure that no Deepa has to hold the dead body of her child again.

Deepa’s travails did not end there. Last I heard, she had been making rounds of various government offices for getting the post mortem of her child conducted. As is the norm, she was redirected from one office to another till late evening yesterday, in the same vehicle that carried last remains of Anjali. That is an indictment of our bureaucracy.

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  • A version of this article was first published in ToI Blogs
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