Gangrape and after: Why it's difficult to believe the govt

The distance between rulers and ruled has become an unbridgeable chasm in India. Nothing illustrates this better than the way in which the government has behaved vis-à-vis the Delhi gangrape victim and the protests that emerged as a spontaneous response to the brutality.

The victim has since been flown to Singapore to be accorded the best possible treatment.

While Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde can certainly be believed when he says that “since the day of the incident, it has been our endeavour to provide her the best medical care” and that “her fluctuating health remains a big cause of concern to all of us” (read here),why is it not easy for us to accept the government’s sincerity? Or why would a Hindustan Times report today explicitly claim that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was the person who originally called for her treatment abroad?

Is it easy to believe Shinde today when it was the same person who declined to meet the people protesting against the gangrape on the ground that he wouldn’t meet Maoists either; isn’t he part of the same government that tried to use the tragic death of a policeman to prevent protestors from continuing their agitation; and isn’t he the one who said the protests should have died down after Sonia Gandhi had met a midnight delegation.

Shinde's boss and Prime Minister addressed the nation with a prepared speech on this tragic event. Is it so difficult for a PM with three daughters to emote and talk to the nation from the heart like any anxious father would? Why would he need to read out a formula speech from a piece of paper, even forgetting, for a minute, the technical glitch over his "Theek hai?" remark that wasn’t intended for telecast?

The distance between rulers and ruled has become an unbridgeable chasm in India. Reuters

Why is it that no one, Sonia included, is able to make one sincere connect on what the nation is angry about? Why is it that her son and youth icon is missing in action, and no minister, no MP and no political leader from the government is able to converse with the crowds? Why has humanity itself gone missing from the government’s engagement with its people?

Today’s newspapers tell us how alienated politicians are from the people when we learn that the decision to shift the patient from Safdarjung Hospital was planned like an anti-terror operation rather than a humanitarian one.

There are more questions than answers. For example, why was the home ministry organising the victim’s shift to Singapore when it should have been the health ministry, which was largely kept in the dark? Why did the government have to create decoy ambulances and burqa-clad doubles at Safdarjung to shift the patient from the ICU in a hush-hush operation as though national security was at risk? Why were the very doctors who kept her alive at Safdarjung not accompanying her on the air ambulance to Singapore?

Is the decision to shift a critical patient for better medical care something about which the nation needs to be kept in the dark? Even her parents did not know where she was going to be taken till they were ready to board the flight to Singapore, reports The Indian Express.

It is one thing to keep the Ajmal Kasab execution secret for fear of roadblocks from human rights activists, quite another to pretend that a patient about whom the entire country is concerned needs to be shifted under a heavy veil of secrecy.

There may be good reasons for secrecy, and maybe the home minister will let us know his reasons later, but the haste with which the operation was organised even after the patient suffered a cardiac arrest on Wednesday makes one doubt what this was all about. Was the patient in any condition to be moved? Or was she moved for non-medical reasons? According to a Times of India report, she faced another medical emergency in mid-air, and “went into near collapse” before she was rescued through the efforts of the doctor.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore has made it clear that the patient was “extremely critical” – a term doctors use only when they think the worst cannot be ruled out. The hospital statement attributed to Dr Kevin Loh, CEO, noted: “As at 7 pm (Singapore time) the patient remains in an extremely critical condition. She is under treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s intensive care unit. Prior to her arrival, she has already undergone three abdominal surgeries, and experienced a cardiac arrest in India. A multi-disciplinary team of specialists is taking care of her and doing everything possible to stabilise her condition.”

The key question is: why was she moved? An Economic Times report suggests that she was moved for non-medical reasons. Samiran Nundy of Delhi's Gangaram Hospital is quoted as saying: "I cannot understand why they shifted the girl at a time when she is in need of critical care. Everyone is jumping the gun, saying that the girl is in need of immediate organ transplant. At this stage, she doesn't need an intestinal transplant. She is suffering from infection and severe bleeding, and there cannot be any transplant when there is an infection."

Subhash Gupta, a liver transplant expert, told the newspaper: "It doesn't seem like the girl was transferred for medical reasons. They might have done it to reduce interference from the doctors or to give privacy to the patient, but saying that she is being taken to Singapore because they have better treatment facility is not correct."

As we all pray and hope that the patient ultimately recovers, one can only shake one’s head at the enormous insensitivity and/or incapacity of the people who rule us to talk to us from their heart, as though we mattered.

There’s surely something wrong in the government-citizen equation if the former is willing to spend crores in treating an individual victim, but is entirely unwilling to engage with thousands of women fearing for their lives in a patriarchal and misogynist world. Does New Delhi think the health of the victim is unlinked to the broader concerns of India’s women?

The government’s actions suggest that it views people as an impediment to its own political priorities, whatever they are.

 

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