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A MIDSUMMER'S LOVE TALE
A JOURNALIST'S WORLD
After the stupendous success of my story on Amitabh’s election died down a bit, I carried on with my unusual flair and style, reporting about the day to day happenings and slowly made a mark in the world of journalism. I was now more of a celebrity, and even established journalists had acclaimed my work. They encouraged me to work harder, and I got some offers too for work in Delhi which I politely and regretfully declined, as I was unable to leave my city.
One day I was sitting alone and typing away at a story furiously (remember typewriters’ were then in use) when in walked a person who said he had credible information of ‘caste conversions’ going on near Rewa bordering the State of Madhya Pradesh. This was the ‘Nat’ Hindu community or the nomad like tribes who were forced to ‘convert’ to Islam because of monetary pressures, and would I be interested in covering this story.
The journalist streak in me was immediately aroused and I said yes to cover this story at the earliest. True to his word, when we reached the Nat community, near Rewa, I was appalled at the plight of the ‘converts’ and the tales of ‘horror’ they had to narrate.
I first met a young Nat Hindu couple who had changed their religion to Islam for a mere thousand rupees on the assurance that they would be given good jobs and a house to live in along with land to plough their produce. Having fallen in that trap they had gone ahead with the ‘conversion ceremony’ where they were ‘circumscribed’ and they were declared as Muslims and were also given Muslim names to go with. After that they were each given a meager thousand rupees but no land was given to them as promised.
They were forced to live outside their village on the mercy of the other ‘converts’. Their own people would not support them now, because of their conversion and the ‘promised’ dole was not forthcoming. Their ‘conversion’ was done with and completed’ and now they had been duped and there was no turning back for them. It was a ‘heartless’ and ‘heart wrenching’ sight.
What surprised me most was their appalling innocence; they had compromised themselves to accept this ‘conversion offer’ out of sheer poverty and deprivation of their basic rights of food, shelter and clothing. They were led to believe that if they converted, their troubles would end, and a life full of promise awaited them at the other end of the tunnel.
Alas that was not to be, and they were now living a life of silent torture, far more badly than they had imagined.
It was their own kin, who had duped them into accepting this offer, and now they were leading a life of neglect and I was determined to pull them out of this muck. I heard them out with patience and my heart was filled with remorse for them. So this was the reality of ‘forced conversions’. How can any man’s misery be another person’s delight? …..
The other ‘converts’ had similar tales to tell. Raziya (name changed) recalled with fondness how she used to stay in a Hindu pariwaar(family), and how she had joyfully celebrated all the Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali and Dushera, with her family members. Suddenly after her marriage to a person who had less than average earning, she was fooled by the smooth talking of a village friend, and was forced to convert along with her husband.
She recalled how she had indeed fought with her husband, who was not so inclined to accept this foolish offer, which had changed their life forever. They were offered a few thousand rupees in exchange for their ‘faith’, and a bright future, with a new home with some land to plough. None of that was forthcoming, except for a few miserable soiled notes of currency. Now they were living in misery, squalor, neglect and utter helplessness.
This story hit the headlines as soon as it was published, and just refused to go away. It was carried with a by-line in the Delhi as well as the Lucknow edition of the newspaper. There was uproar as soon as the matter was brought out into the ‘public domain’, with the Opposition members creating pandemonium and gunning for the ruling party’s head and asking for their explanation, as well as their resignations for failing to protect the basic rights of people and forcing them into conversions.
The matter was raised in the Assembly too and amidst the shouting and banging of desks’ and the din caused by the MLA’s, the Assembly had to be adjourned sine die.
An inquiry was also ordered immediately by the State Government, as to why, and who had resorted to these ‘forced conversions’. It was a pity however, that nothing was done to alleviate the living conditions of these people to a much better one, and politics was being done in the name of ‘forced conversions’.
Perhaps this was because the Nat community didn't have a sizable vote bank due to their nomadic nature. Their names weren't registered in the electoral rolls, as they were forever travelling, always on the move.
A follow up story on these conversions, maybe could have helped to alleviate the conditions and lessen the misery of these people. I was not one of those journalists’ who would feel comfortable in simply highlighting anybody else’s misery, and wait for the cacophony of applause to filter through.
I was more interested that the human touch in the story should be ‘exploited’ and brought to the fore. Something should have been done to reduce their immediate misery. A re conversion maybe, some land, a new home, a new job perhaps, could have been the ideal solution I was looking at, but nothing happened. Only a miracle was needed to alleviate the sufferings of these people.
I was particularly saddened by the fact that when these people got to know I was a journalist they almost ‘felt rejuvenated’ as if I was the balm they had been waiting for.
In fact I still remember Raziya’s comment, ‘Sir, you will get us out of this mess, won’t you? We promise we are ready to re-convert back if you help us!’
All I could do was to hide my face and mumble an assurance.
‘Yes, yes please don’t worry, I’m sure after this story comes out, your troubles will end.’ I assured Raziya.
This story, although made it to the national press, did not still achieve the above ‘objective’ I had in mind. The assurance given to Raziya was not fulfilled.
My objective was to highlight the pathetic conditions of the Nat Community after their so called conversions and the zero benefit accruing to them thereafter, even after their faith conversion. The other objective also was to stop any further illegal conversions, so that the people of this particular community and region would not be further exploited.
The further conversion had, in any case now stopped considerably, after the miserable experience of the members of the Nat community who had already been forcefully converted. But the plan to alleviate these people to a better living position was probably not achieved in the desired manner, as I wanted, as probably at that time the ‘power’ and potential of the electronic and print media was not fully realized, and was not so much visible, as it is today.
So much for the power of media!
Another story which I did and which attracted considerable amount of attention, was the story on the apathetic and miserable conditions of the hospitals of Allahabad. The MLN (Moti Lal Nehru) Medical College, which is the premier medical college as well as Government hospital in Allahabad was completely in shambles. When I walked in, the stench coming from the corridors was overpowering. The operations being conducted there, threw up a lot of waste like human blood, human parts which were dissected and thrown away in a corner for it to be carried away by the hospital sweeper. The sweeper instead of carrying it away just threw them in a huge trench dug up outside the hospital. This in turn attracted a large number of stray dogs feeding on hospital waste garbage. Imagine my horror, when I saw some stray dogs roaming around unabashedly near the operation theaters and the wards.
I almost threw up. ‘My God, if this is the state of operation theaters’ and ICU then how could anybody expect to get home alright?’ I thought to myself before I threw up my hands in indignation. However more horror awaited me. An emergency operation was being conducted and the lights had gone off. As the generator was being repaired it could not be put on, and the patient was waiting for life support equipment and the operation was ‘put on hold’ for the time being.
‘PUT ON HOLD’! ……..My foot!
Can you imagine more callousness than an operation being put on hold for want of electricity, even for a short while’?
This was the height of callousness, and in case the patient started to come back to consciousness, what would he see and feel, but his guts staring back at him. Ugh! I shuddered at the very thought of such an eventuality. Horror!
More horror was in store for me as I walked ahead. The oxygen tanks were not fully operational and oxygen for the patients was in short supply. The blood banks were not up to their working capacity and the blood being supplied besides being in short supply was not tested for contamination.
There were rats and small mice running around the corridors, as well as underneath the beds with the patients lying on top. A cat was all that was required to complete this pathetic scenario. Maybe a cat could have helped the hospital to reduce the number of rats or at least keep them down. But this was pathetic. Later I got to know this was standard procedure here. The rats were getting fatter as they were feeding on human flesh being operated upon and organs thrown out in the hospital garbage.
In fact just a few days ago there were reports of a baby being attacked and bitten by rats in this very hospital. The baby didn't survive and there was a hue and cry but the matter died down soon thereafter. It was carried all over in the local press for a few days, and in fact this was precisely the reason why I had come to this hospital to cover the proceedings. An inquiry was ordered and was still pending.
So this was it.
Allahabad’s premier hospital which had total Government funding and backing and apart from being a teaching medical college, which was also a premier hospital on the pattern of AIIMS; although not as high profile as that.
So would it remain in such a pathetic condition or would it improve.
Another menace, for all to see and notice was that of stray dogs. As if rats and mice were not enough, stray dogs were also prevalent, and freely roaming around in the corridors of the hospital. The stench of the hospital, the waste being thrown all over, the daily operations conducted, attracted these stray dogs. There were no security personnel at the gates to ward off these animals from entering the wards and even the operation theaters. Dogs were sitting underneath the beds of patients admitted inside the General Wards.
It was a terrible, unimaginable, heart wrenching scene; was this image of free India our forefathers and leaders could have visualized? Was this the Country earlier addressed as ‘Soni ke chiriya’? (Bird made of gold)
I tried to imagine the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters of our Country who struggled day and night to gain independence for us Indians and for posterity. The people who had laid down their lives for independence would surely be writhing in their graves, and their souls would have been pained tremendously, had they been alive to see this absolute parody of sorts happening in our midst.
The Medical Superintendent of the hospital when contacted couldn't comment much on this situation, and wanted to wash his hands off the whole matter. However I was having none of this, and before I left, I took a written assurance from the MS that these complaints would be looked into, and surely rectified. I followed this up continuously and vigorously with my reporting on this matter, almost continuously, and last I learnt that the MS had tendered his resignation, and a new person had been appointed in his place. The wards had been spruced up, the dogs and rat menace had been checked and efforts were on to install a new working generator in place which would ensure at least an ‘uninterrupted operation’. So much for change in attitudes.
I also learnt that an attorney had filed a public interest litigation in the High Court seeking monitoring of the wards, medicine supply and general administration of this hospital. This ensured that further mischief was checked, and people were assured of a clean and hygienic hospital where they were assured germ free treatment, at affordable cost.
End of Chapter Two - A Midsummer's Love Tale
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