I learnt about Ramrati from the pages of the Hindustan Times a few days ago. Apparently, the newspaper found her living in a urinal outside of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), India’s most renowned medical facility located in the heart of the capital. Ramrati had a defective mitral valve and was seeking treatment for her medical condition.
Ramrati hails from a village in the Hamirpur district of UP. She is a mother of 5 and is 50. Needless to say that Ramrati, her husband Bhawani Din and their family lives in abject poverty and can hardly afford cardiac surgery, even at government-run hospitals, which are supposed to treat the poor free, but very often do not. Ramrati traveled to Jhansi for her treatment, from where she was asked to go to the Post Graduate Institute (PGI) of Medical Sciences in Lucknow the provincial capital. From there, she was sent to the AIIMS in Delhi, where she had been languishing in a men’s urinal for close to two and a half month hoping to have her surgery at India’s most premium medical institute.
Bhawani Din mortgaged all of his land to raise Rs. 100000 to fund his wife’s surgery. It would probably have been possible for Ramrati to undergo surgery at AIIMS, but then the hospital is over crowded and Ramrati has to wait her turn and since she has no place to live in Delhi, she found an unused men’s urinal, outside AIIMS and shared it with some other patients in a similar predicament.
Thanks to the story in the Hindustan Times, Ramrati found help. A local NGO found her room to board in a dharamshala and an eminent cardiac surgeon Dr. A. Sampath Kumar, formerly the Head of CTVS Surgery and now at a private hospital, Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital in East Delhi agreed to operate on Ramrati free of cost.
The newspaper duly wrote about Ramrati’s good fortune also highlighting its own role in bringing succor to her. Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital too did not miss the opportunity of grabbing headlines by positioning itself as a hospital with a heart. Dr. A. Sampath Kumar, who was part of the team of surgeons who had operated on the Prime Minister a few years ago got an opportunity to present himself as one of the ‘finest’ cardiac surgeon in the country. Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital, released pictures of a tired looking Ramrati being taken to the hospital for treatment and undergoing treatment at the hospital. AIIMS agreed to refund the Rs. 100000 deposit it had accepted from Bhawani Din.
Well, all this does sound like a fairy tale but it does raise disturbing questions. Why does Ramrati need to run from pillar to post to seek medical attention? Why does she need to travel to Delhi, via Jhansi and Lucknow, when the medical attention she needs can be provided to her in Lucknow? Why does Bhawani Din need to mortgage his land to raise money for his wife’s treatment? Why does Ramrati need to languish for two and half months in a men’s urinal outside India’s best hospital to get treated? What happens if she dies waiting for her turn? Who is accountable for all this? How many Ramrati’s are waiting outside AIIMS and other such facilities desperately seeking medical attention and why no one does anything about it? At the end of the day, who is accountable for Ramrati’s fate?
Now let us look at Dr. Sampath Kumar’s intervention. I would like to believe that he is a genuinely altruistic man and by responding to Ramrati’s predicament, he is only honouring the Hippocratic oath. But look at the way Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital has gone about talking to the press about the free treatment that Ramrati has been offered by them. There are Ramrati’s photographs with the hospital ambulance serving as a nice backdrop and every mention of Dr. Kumar is followed by a statement that he is now with Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital. It seems that the hospital wants the media spotlight firmly on itself, somehow the entire things looks way too opportunistic.
While the likes of Anna Hazare and the so-called members of the civil society prepare to commence a Gandhiji like fast, hoping to bring the government down to its knees, who is looking out for the Ramratis of the world. Why don’t we have the civil society empathizing with the poorest of our land and the callousness of our system, which does not care for them? Isn’t the right to reasonably good healthcare a fundamental right derived from the right to life? Isn’t this something to agitate for? How can we have a shining India and a Ramrati’s India existing together and for how long?
And finally, today as we have our netas shamelessly mouthing platitudes to our freedom from the British, we need to look inwards and ask ourselves if Ramrati is free today. Unless we get an answer in the affirmative, India will continue to struggle for real freedom.
PS: I believe Ramrati has since been successfully operated upon and is on the road to recovery