Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why Diarrhoea does not Matter in Malegaon

According to one estimate, 55 deaths have occurred because of diarrhoea, pneumonia and other related diseases in the last one and half months in the textile town of Malegaon. State government must declare an emergency. Is anyone listening?

Ordinary Indians, politicians and a select group of media organisations may have become paranoid over the issue of swine flu but a placid calm greets dingy by-lanes of Malegaon as the town reels under the shadow of diarrhoea, Calera, pneumonia and other related diseases. The brave hearts of this small and neglected corner of Maharashtra face death with honour. In October 2001, we faced police bullets. The 2006 blasts did not shatter us; we did not lose the element of sanity. 2008 blast was a grave provocation to spark a communal conflagration but saffron souls didn’t succeed. We lost our sense of sanity for sometime but common sense and good judgment prevailed over anger. Malegaon did not crumble.

It’s a different kind of terror this time. It has surfaced in the form an epidemic, a disease which refuses to lie low even after a month, a disease which refuses to take orders from superior government officials. Let’s face it: filth is our recognition. Whether we like it or not, it’s true. That is how a Muslim mohalla is recognised: by heaps of garbage. From Mumbai’s Kurla to Delhi’s Chandani Chowk, it’s the same old story.

That’s only the one part of the story. The second part is equally despicable and ugly. Our representatives have failed us. The issue of Muslim leadership is a mirage. According to records maintained by Bada Qabristan trust, 55 Muslims have died in the last one and half months because of diarrhoea, pneumonia and other related diseases. One may dispute the actual figure of death toll but no Muslim will provide the wrong cause of death to Qabristan authorities. That brings us to an interesting question: Will 2009 be remembered as a year of medical terror? The current estimate exceeds the death toll of two bomb blasts put together. Did anyone realize that?

The wave of diarrhoea began in the first week of July. If local administration took time to wake up late then State government was in deep slumber till Shobha Buchao, minister of state for health visited Malegaon on August 10. Her quiet visit to Malegaon did not change the prevalent ground realities. Deputy CM Chagun Bhujbhal repeated the usual platitudes on Saturday when he visited Malegaon General Hospital. He was misled by handful Marathi journalists who even went on to claim that beef-eating and slaughterhouse are the main cause of diarrhoea wave! Muslim politicians kept quiet. Silence may be a virtuous act but in such a time of communal mudslinging, silence must be declared a political sin! It seemed as if those Marathi journalists had been hired to advice the deputy CM and the local administration! The press conference was turned into a public relation conference!

As India marches ahead in every sphere of life, the colonial Indian mindset remains mired in the 18th century. State government is hyper-busy in a much-hyped swine flu precisely because it comes with a made-in-America tag! Diarrhoea is a local phenomenon and it comes with a made-in-Malegaon tag. Any foreign-export even in the form of disease and epidemic is considered worthy of media coverage. Mainstream media may have completely ignored Malegaon epidemic wave because towns are not part of their target audience.

What will happen if this kind of diarrhoea wave grips a metropolitan city like Mumbai? What would have been the response of state government if this epidemic spread in Ashok Chavan’s home town? Malegaon’s diarrhoea wave is more dangerous than India’s swine flu. It has taken more lives than swine flu if we compare it proportionately.

Incidentally, all the victims happened to be Muslims. A question worth-asking: Is Muslim blood cheap in the eyes of state government?

Malegaon should not be remembered only for riots and bomb blasts. Senior journalist Pamela Philipose has rightly observed in September 2006, “The tragedy of the September 8 blasts in this town served to uncover the greater tragedy of Malegaon, a town that Maharashtra — and India — remembers only in times of blasts and riots.”

State government needs to give a human face to human beings of Malegaon.

Inquilab, August 18, 2009

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