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Ward boy as paramedic: Middle India must bring up the rear

by Abhay Vaidya

Having successfully got the Bulandshahar Government Hospital ward boy suspended and the chief medical superintendent transferred on punishment posting, the Indian media must not rest in smug satisfaction. It should go after the hospital sweeper in Ballia who was dressing wounds and also get him suspended and his superior transferred.

What about the hundreds, if not thousands, of hospitals across the 640 districts in the country where ward boys and other menial staff are probably guilty of the same ‘crime’?

Like strong coffee which brings relief, instantaneous and sensationalist media reportage has its advantages too — such as grabbing attention, unfailingly. But when the ground realities of an impoverished nation are not taken into perspective, the discourse becomes shallow, one-sided and unproductive.

 Ward boy as paramedic: Middle India must bring up the rear

Why can’t a select lot of promising ward boys, sweepers and other lower staff in hospitals across India be also trained as paramedics during emergencies such as disasters and accidents? Screengrab from IBNLive.com

This is especially true when one looks at the pathetic state of healthcare in rural India, as happened very recently with the raw footage of ward boys and sweepers giving injections, stitching wounds and applying bandage to patients in distress. The upwardly mobile middle class India can go about streaking its hair, applying fairness creams and demanding answers on behalf of the nation during debates on satellite television. All of this wouldn’t matter if only the media applied deeper thought to what is happening. Why is the Indian media behaving like foreign news organisations for whom cattle on the roads and other freaky news items was the only news that mattered from India?

In a poor nation like ours with a billion-plus population, why can’t we encourage and open avenues for enterprising ward boys, sweepers and jamadars (the derogative Indian term for janitors) to break free from their social prisons and climb the ladder to a higher purpose in life? Why can’t a pleasantly mannered, hardworking and efficient janitor not be given the opportunity to become a supervisor in the housekeeping department?

Why can’t a select lot of promising ward boys, sweepers and other lower staff in hospitals across India be also trained as paramedics during emergencies such as disasters and accidents? The Chinese government did precisely that — with admirable results — more than six decades ago when it trained paddy farmers to serve as health workers across rural China.

‘Inclusive growth’ sounds like socio-political jargon, but what it means is giving an opportunity for growth and a better livelihood to the poorer sections of society. When a friend’s mother sends her housemaid to a driving school so that she can have a housemaid-cum-driver, she’s set an admirable example of promoting inclusive growth. The housemaid now earns a lot more than before, has acquired a valuable skill and her patronising boss has got a housemaid and a driver rolled into one, benefiting immensely in the process.

A young Dalit boy who had given up on education, successfully cleared his first year BCom recently, after another middle class household in need of a driver sent him to a driving school. This was on condition that he would complete his education which would be sponsored. The family that has employed him is keen that he follow Ambedkar’s example and become the first graduate ever in his lineage.

There are thousands of such examples where sensitive, middle class Indians are promoting  inclusive growth in their small own way. A number of corporates have been practicing inclusive growth too, as, for example, the Pune-based Forbes Marshall, which as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity sponsors a training programme for youth from poor families to serve as shop assistants and other staff in malls and departmental stores.

In 2004, a young, IAS officer from Maharashtra, V Radha, initiated a skills upgradation project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for peons, drivers and lower-grade clerks. The goals were to encourage lower government staff to become "proactive and positive" and acquire simple skills "such as connecting computers, taking printouts and other such."

For the first time in their lives, the lower staff felt valued and responded enthusiastically. The programme was also initiated in four other states, though not much has been heard of it today. Not surprising, because even then, other IAS officers looked askance at Radha and felt she was wasting her time.

One reason why parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS are unable to provoke street vandalism in Mumbai as frequently as they did in the past is because even Maharashtrians have lost patience with such self-serving tactics and would prefer to engage in productive activities. When a person is busy earning a livelihood, he has little time to go and stone buses or break public infrastructure.

There is a realisation in the government that India needs vocational training programmes on a grand scale to promote employment and skills-based self-employment on a large scale.

This could well be the next thrust area for the HRD ministry led by Kapil Sibal which is already in talks with the United States to replicate the Community Colleges model in India. Of course, there’s a lot that patriotic and committed Indians have already done in this arena, as for example, at the Vigyan Ashram, Pabal (Pune district) founded by the late Dr Srinath Kalbag. Here, he pioneered the education of village school and college dropouts in vocational skills and trained them to become rural plumbers, electricians, welders and other such wage-earners.

Healthcare in rural India is in a shambles — even five kilometres away from prosperous cities like Mumbai and Pune. The nation will need nothing less than an army of paramedics who will form the backbone of the healthcare establishment. Doctors and nurses will always be sparsely available in rural India because there’s a pressing demand for them in prosperous Western countries and the Gulf. It is finally well-trained “ward boys” and “sweepers” motivated by selfless social workers such as Dr Abhay Bang, Dr Prakash Amte, Bunker Roy and hundreds others, who can create a miracle in rural India.

Good hospitals and NGOs in the public and private sector can function as the hubs and the army of paramedics  can be the spokes for a hub-and-spoke model for rural healthcare in India. Easier said than done, especially in India, even though it was the eminent management guru Ram Charan who taught the world the importance of execution in business.

Poor Indians like the Bulandshahar ward boy and Ballia sweeper, who also have families to take care of, need help in upgrading their skills and improving their lives. All they need is appropriate training as paramedics. We need to help them to help ourselves and finally, it is the media which must also run campaigns to make this happen.

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2012 14:54:36 IST

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