More often than not outrage in India is opportunistic. The frenzied reaction to death of children in Gorakhpur perfectly exemplifies it.
Those who know Gorakhpur and the adjoining part of eastern Uttar Pradesh can vouch for it that people of the Terai region bordering Nepal are historically exposed to acute privation, epidemic and the worst kind of criminal governance. The death of hundreds of children is an annual feature that scarcely catches attention of the national media.
The reason is not far to seek. After Bir Bahadur Singh died in the late 1990s, the region was bereft of any political stalwart except for the brief stint of Rajnath Singh. In the successive regimes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and later Akhilesh Yadav, eastern Uttar Pradesh was considered to be a backyard with limited electoral relevance to win Lok Sabha or Assembly seats.
As a result, the annual outbreak of deadly vector-borne diseases like malaria and meningitis that results in hundreds of deaths used to create a transient outrage in local media. In Parliament, Yogi Adityanath was often seen expressing his "selective outrage" over the government’s inability to contain the epidemic which regularly kills children. In this context, nobody was better placed than him to comprehend the magnitude of the menace.
Unlike in the past when Adityanath used to rake up this issue as an MP, his role as the chief minister required him to take corrective measures long before the killer monsoon season kicked in. He was well aware of the fact that as the monsoon ebbs, the outbreak of epidemic is a given. Yet, he miserably failed as the chief minister. His government’s approach to the problem was quite cavalier and quite similar to responses in the past. What seems to have compounded the crime is the manner in which the Centre is also found wanting in reacting to the threat of the epidemic.
But particularly disturbing is the manner in which “collective outrage” is expressed in a very opportunistic manner. In the past four decades when the state has been ruled by political parties of all denominations (Congress, BJP, SP and BSP), there had never been any serious attempt to contain the epidemic and prevent the deaths of hundreds of children every year. The state bureaucracy made only cosmetic attempts to improve medical facilities during the chief ministership of Bir Bahadur Singh. Since then, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Siddharth Nagar, Kushi Naga, Basti, Bahraich, Gonda and the adjoining Lakhimpur Kheri were regarded as a region where people were doomed to live as second-class citizen. People’s representatives in the legislative Assembly or Parliament are rarely seen expressing their outrage over the plight of people. Even when they did, it was in a ritualistic manner, like Adityanath did during his stints in Lok Sabha.
Even now those expressing “outrage” over the deaths of children in Gorakhpur treat the problem as episodic. The cavalier manner in which the country’s policy makers treat our children is an endemic problem. Barely 200 kilometres away from Gorakhpur, 27 children died after they were fed mid-day meals mixed with pesticide in Dharamsthali Gandaman village of Saran district of Bihar on 16 July, 2013. Most of them could have been saved if the primary health centre had facilities. Even in the district hospital at Saran, the doctors were ill-equipped to treat children. The issue that made headlines for many days could hardly do anything to improve the situation in Bihar where health facilities continue to deteriorate.
In fact, the problem lies in the manner in which successive governments at the state and the Center have been treating these problems in a manner which does not take into account a sustained and systematic approach. The fact that a vast region of eastern Uttar Pradesh, bordering a significant part of western Bihar registers as an area with highest mortality rate of newly-born babies and malnutrition among children has hardly been taken up for correction in the government at a serious level.
And it will hardly be surprising if the Gorakhpur tragedy is taken to score brownie points in callously competitive politics. It would require “courage of conviction” on the part of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Adityanath government at the state to recognise the nature of the problem and initiate correctives in right earnest. This region endowed with natural bounties and the most fertile soil is benighted by criminal governance of a bunch of power-seekers and criminals over the decades.
Children being the most vulnerable are the worst sufferers of this criminality.
It would be worst if this outrage is allowed to subside in face of sops and "chalta hai"” approach of a criminalised system. Modi and Aditynath would do well if they take this crisis as an opportunity to radically improve governance in eastern Uttar Pradesh and take measures to rid this area of the menace that routinely takes its toll on children. Perhaps the idea of reaping a demographic dividend will then be better served in action rather than rhetoric.
Updated Date: Aug 14, 2017 15:12 PM