By Nantoo Banerjee
If anything is singularly responsible for India remaining as one of the world’s unhappiest countries to live, it is the utter neglect of life here. The CIA’s world fact book, updated in July, this year, estimated 40.5 deaths per 1,000 live births — 39.2 deaths in the male child category and 41.8 deaths for female —in India in 2016. These unfortunate infant deaths partly explain why the world’s ninth richest country by GDP and yet the home of the world’s largest number of poor people is continuously slipping in the UN world happiness survey since its first report was published five years ago. It is not surprising that the sudden death of at least 64 children over six days at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital, earlier this month, became an instant political hit with opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi even before the cause or causes of death were officially established and known to the public. Reports blaming the death are contradictory — one blamed lack of oxygen in the children’s word, other held the spread of Japanese Encephalitis responsible.
The public memory in India is very short, especially when it comes to unheralded deaths and disasters. Only two years ago, over 50 children, mostly newborn babies as in Gorakhpur hospital, died in a state-run Sishu Bhawan at Cuttack, Odisha’s premier pediatric hospital. Most of the children died there also suffered from birth asphyxia — when a baby doesn’t receive enough oxygen at birth. Other cases involved neonatal sepsis, a blood infection that occurs in infants younger than 90 days. In both cases at Cuttack and Gorakhpur, the political opposition went after the respective state chief ministers. Few were really interested in going into the causes of unnatural death and taking steps to stop the recurrence of such unfortunate incidents. Despite the official records of declining rates of infant deaths in the country, India still has one of the highest rates of such incidents in the world. As in the two-year-old case at Cuttack, the Gorakhpur case will also be forgotten soon. And, such unfortunate incidents may recur elsewhere in smaller or larger scale leading to similar media reports and political reactions without any genuine preventive action from the authorities. The saga of the common man’s suffering goes on.