A day in the life of a Politician | from Yogendra Yadav’s diary
[20 November 2014. Bilaspur, Raipur in Chhattisgarh, in the wake of the tragic death of women after sterilization camp]
It is 8:30 in the morning when we set out for the affected villages. Party colleagues had warned me last night that we must not go to the nearest village, for residents resent any more political tourists followed by camera crews. Sanket Thakur, our Chhattisgarh convenor and Adarsh Shukla, our candidate from Bilaspur are with me along with many local volunteers.
First stop is village Lokhandi. We meet a group of women, survivors or their families. This young girl seemed a shade older than my school going daughter. She was already a mother of two and had opted for vasectomy. She is nervous and excited as she narrates the story of how she reacted to the tablet the day after her operation and how she was taken to the hospital. Happy to have survived and satisfied with fifty thousand compensation, she had little idea that the drug residue could still be inside her. Other women, all younger to me, were mother-in-laws of victims still recuperating in the hospital. They were anxious, but not overly so.
We then met another family in the same village that has lost its daughter-in-law. Her husband turns out to be this quiet boy, a construction worker, very matter of fact in describing the incident. (Was he dazed? ..or indifferent?) His father was more vocal, also more focused on the compensation amount of Rs. 4 lakh. (Was he already thinking of a second marriage for his son?) The first tears rolled off the eyes of the victim’s mother-in-law. She spoke of the kids (both boys, 2 years and one month) and life without their mother. I could see a tragedy through the eyes of a woman.
Next village, Nirtu, was some distance. This woman was older, around 27, and had three kids. The family was quick to arrange a photo of the deceased as a crowd gathered and mobile phones turned into cameras. More talks of compensation, possibly a government job for the victims’ family (I wondered how it would help the kids without a mother)… I was feeling like a wretched disaster tourist. And then the victims’ mother arrived to restore my faith in humanity. Her tears drowned us all and our small talk. Unconcerned about future, she just cried for her child, her beautiful daughter, the mother of her grand-kids. I just wanted to sit down and cry with her. Eventually I mumbled something meaningless to her and felt how hollow my words sounded.
We start back for Bilaspur, for most of the victims are still in the two big hospitals – CIMS and Apollo. Doctors at CIMS are very courteous and permit access to patients. They have had a hell of a job: 129 patients admitted, including 99 post-operative trauma cases. The rest were ordinary patients, men and women, who were administered poisonous anti-biotic medicine. We discovered that some patients from the second sterilization camp were still consuming the proscribed medicine while deaths were already being reported from the first one.
By then the local press had caught up with us. We had an impromptu press conference outside the hospital, which was followed by a formal press meet and another meeting a little later at the Raipur Press Club. Usual questions: so, who do you blame? Do you read a conspiracy? What is your party’s game plan on this issue? How far will you take this agitation? Are you satisfied with a judicial inquiry?
In between, party colleagues from Bilaspur and nearby districts are holding a protest demonstration demanding dismissal of the Health Minister. Our Chhattisgarh team has taken up the case vigorously and is committed to ensure justice for the victims. Though, I often wonder if anyone ever listens to the slogans in a demonstration. For one thing they are hardly audible. The signage is very poor and its difficult to make out what the protest is about. In any case the people, in general, tend to be skeptic of protest demonstrations.
Some of my public spirited colleagues helped lift my spirits somewhat.
Before we left for the airport I met Purushottam Kaushik, who had come to bless us. An old socialist in his 80s, he is one of the most respected politicians in Chhattisgarh.
He said, “You must keep up the good work. You people represent the only hope.”
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