3 lessons to learn from Gorakhpur tragedy (and none of them is about a disease)

Little children have to die in bulks - 17 in a day, please - to get our attention.

 |  BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES  |  5-minute read |   14-08-2017
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Japanese are famous for punctuality, Indians for not understanding what that means. Even Japanese Encephalitis arrives in time. Help never does. Same month, every year, hundreds of children die because of lack of timely healthcare intervention. This year about 30 of them died because of lack of oxygen before the lack of healthcare could kill them.

We have surmounted polio by vaccinating the vulnerable against that debilitating disease. There's a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis too. But the half-literate rumours of a conspiracy to neuter male babies, rumours that couldn't defeat the anti-polio movement, has defeated encephalitis vaccines. For Gorakhpur, the situation is normal, it's August. History has not repeated itself as many times as the tragedy of Gorakhpur in recent history. Since those who do not learn from history perish under its weight, here are the three lessons from the past three days.

There are no heroes

There was a time when a tragedy united us. A train accident will evoke a wave of sympathy. Now it depends on who died. Junaid died over a seat. Devendra too died over a seat. We mourn selectively. Even tragedies divide us as we look for religious identity of the dead. Our heroes divide us, our villains divide us. Today, Kafeel Ahmed Khan is both. The doctor was hailed as a hero for what doctors do and then turned out to be a villain for what spin doctors do.

This is not Gotham City. Gorakhpur today, sorry to report that, has no heroes. It has villains, plenty of them. Places like Gorakhpur have long stopped producing heroes because life sucks life out of life and one who manages to grow up and leave the forsaken town is a hero. Living is heroic. Living with honour legendary.

If you are looking for heroes, may I suggest looking outside a government hospital doctor with a weakness for short cuts and short skirts. In fact, get as far as possible from any government building. There may be one among the dead children because they didn't get the opportunity to allow Gorakhpur to turn them into villains. Lack of oxygen killed them before the carbon dioxide of criminality and corruption could rid them of their humanity.

What divides us unites us

Make no mistake when we talk about divisions. We are also united when we are divided. We have three sets of people. Third and the largest just watches it in horror as the first and second settle scores in the battlefield called social media. Set 1 used to drool when even a minor misfortune struck a Congress-ruled state between 2004 and 2014. Since 2014, Set 2 goes "oh boy, oh boy" like when the same strikes a BJP state as if George Carlin's cat spotted both his legs. They do not let fact come in the way of their jeers, memes and filthy abuses as they unleash mob power. Each group reacts by finding their own facts to crush the offence. It's a daily practice match that converts into actual contests once or twice a week, if they are lucky and people are sufficiently unlucky.

gorakhpur-child-pti__081417075337.jpgLack of oxygen killed them before the carbon dioxide of criminality and corruption could rid them of their humanity.

Kafeel Khan was a hero because he made himself available to the media. He is the paediatrics department head who, by his own publicity material, attended patients at his private hospital between 9am and 9pm daily. When did he find time to visit his department? He and his boss both are sacked. His boss was not even in town that night. We would have had another temporary hero claiming he produced oxygen all night that Dr Khan was transporting in his own car all night. None of this can shake the resolve of the determined social media warrior.

Convenience of conscience

We put the con in conscience. Outrage is a communicable disease. There is a condition though: Truth must cross a threshold. We can be comfortably numb without any feeling till something starts trending.

If the Gorakhpur children had died at the rate of seven per day, we wouldn't have been outraging like this, would we? No. We didn't. Because they were maintaining that optimum pace that wouldn't touch our conscience. On days they accelerated to 10 or even 16, but have we ever cared about attention seeking? But the moment the number hit 17 and the two-day toll was a neat 30 plus, we jumped from our cushions and said: Enough is enough, we will tweet the authorities to the point they pretend submission. We want some heads to roll, sack the CM; OK, ask him to resign; if not the CM then a minister; since the minister is being so anal, sack the principal. Oh, sorry, he has already resigned. Okay, then!

Little children have to die in bulks (17 in a day, please) to get our attention. As you read this, children are dying in ones and twos because the state has reneged on the promise of healthcare. Like they did in Malda cribs. We asked for Mamata Banerjee's resignation and moved on. We have asked Yogi Adityanath to resign and we will move on. That demand sounds odd. People resign on moral grounds. People don't ask one to resign on moral grounds. Morality comes from within. Anyway, we shall move on.

Happy Independence Day. Sing the national anthem while Set 1 insists on not insisting the national song while Set 2 insists on insisting.

Bharat Mata ki Jai. May her children get oxygen when they are gasping for life.

Also read: Why Adityanath refuses to face facts and own up to Gorakhpur hospital deaths


Kamlesh Singh Kamlesh Singh @kamleshksingh

Journalism student. Ed honcho at the India Today Group Mediaplex. God's Loyal Opposition. Useful Warning: Tweets may hurt religious sentiments.

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