Skip to main content

Unwilling 'sacrifice': Who will be responsible for India's 884 non-Covid deaths?

By Simran Kaur, Vasundhra Kaul, Varsha Sharma, Sandeep Pandey*
While the entire world faced the threat of the coronavirus, India was witness to a peculiar phenomenon. Hundreds of migrant workers poured into the streets, despite explicit warnings – and passionate appeals – by the Prime Minister to stay indoors.
India saw numerous deaths during this time, many of which were not a result of the virus itself. This latter category was no less a tragedy, albeit, a preventable one. Instances of this “collateral damage” made it to mainstream media as well; the 16 forced off of roads by the police, who resorted to walking on railway tracks and were crushed in their sleep by an oncoming train, the 24 workers who died as their truck collided with another in Auraiya, Uttar Pradesh.
Through all this time, it is inexplicable why the Indian Railways was not pressed into service to transport people. The Indian railways is the largest such system in the world and have the astonishing capacity to move two crore people on any day from one part of India to another. Allowing the railways to transport migrant workers to their homes at the beginning of the lockdown period could have minimised this suffering.
Jamlo Madkam, a 12-year-old tribal girl from Chhattisgarh was walking with her family from Telangana but died before reaching her village. 48-year-old Tabarak Ansari was cycling from Bhiwandi, Maharashtra where he worked in a power loom factory, to his village Shishpur in UP but died of exhaustion on the way, in Madhya Pradesh.
His friend could not afford to bring the body home, and he was buried in an unfamiliar land. Krishna and Pramila Sahu, with their two infant children, left Lucknow for Chhatisgarh on a bicycle. They met with an accident on the way, causing the death of both parents. Amrish and Raju were on their way from Ghaziabad to Bihar on a motorcycle. They met with an accident near Varanasi, and both died.
When a Shramik special train arrived in Kanpur on May 24, three people, including a old woman and a youth, were found dead on it. More tragic was the death of Mohan Lal Sharma, a 38-year-old migrant worker from UP who used to work in Mumbai, whose body was discovered in a toilet of another Shramik special train after three days in Jhansi when it was returning from Gorakhpur.
Even as hospitals were gearing up to deal with the influx of Covid-19 cases, a lack of direction caused them to turn away patients with other ailments. Eight months pregnant Neelam died in an ambulance outside a hospital in Greater Noida after being turned away by 3 government and 10 private hospitals because of lack of beds.
The three-year-old son of a ward boy Manish Tyagi died after being turned away by 2 private hospitals in Lucknow. By the time the child was admitted to King George Medical University Hospital, it was too late to save his life. Manish, who was quarantined himself, could do nothing but watch helplessly from a distance. Ram Shankar, a farmer who met with a fatal hit and run accident in rural Hardoi, was moved around from one hospital to another over a period of 5 days before finally dying in the tenth hospital he was taken to.
Series of reasons behind the deaths hugely amount to negligence by hospitals both private and public. People are virtually left to their fate
By that time, the family had already spent Rs two lakh for admission and treatment. Eight-month-old Izan tested negative for COVID-19 and was admitted to KGMU Hospital, and died on the 13th day when milk entered his lungs after an MRI test. Even a ventilator could not save his life.
There are also many, many cases of impossible choices. 35-year-old Chhabu Mandal, originally from Bihar, who worked as a painter in Gurgaon was finding it difficult to make two ends meet. So he sold his mobile phone for Rs 2,500, bought food for his wife, her parents, and four children and then hanged himself to death.
A website has recorded 884 such deaths which took place for reasons other than Covid-19 during the lockdown period.
Who will be held responsible for these deaths? They have been called “sacrifices” by many, including by our Prime Minister. This is a particularly unfortunate word to use in the context of migrant workers, who often find themselves being made unwilling “sacrifices” for any number of reasons. Even in death, there is no true acknowledgment of their lives, and so, no dignity.
While the idea of justice is being sought from the courts during this pandemic, it is crucial to also demand accountability from the executive. Sections 124 and 124A of the Railways Act provide compensation for accidents and ‘untoward incidents’.
A related judgment was given by the Supreme, Court of India on May 9, 2018 in Union of India vs Rina Devi (Civil Appeal No. 4945 of 2018), which allowed for compensation to be paid for non-self inflicted deaths while boarding and de-boarding the train. The apex court considered death while getting on or off the train which was not self-inflicted to be an ‘untoward incident’.
Similarly, the deaths of migrant workers in these cases should also fall under the category of ‘untoward incidents’ and should be compensated under the head as per the Railway Accident and Untoward Incident (Compensation) Rules 1990.
There is a huge institutionalized imbalance of accessibility of justice for the marginalized in the county. The country really needs to reconstitute itself in terms of response to grave humanitarian crises like this. The series of unfortunate events rolling out pursuant to policy crises and decision making failures prove that Indian citizenship is highly graded.
The series of reasons behind the deaths hugely amount to negligence by hospitals both private and public. People are virtually left to their fate much worse is the inhumane conditions of hospitals which are overburdened with rapidly rising number of cases each day.
This highlights the sheer dismal state of healthcare in India which spends so less of it public expenditure on healthcare. There is a need for evolving a multidimensional legal framework for dealing with cases of compensation to be accorded to the victims.
As per the Railway Accident and Untoward Incidents (Compensation) Amendment Rules, 2016, the compensation for death while traveling using the Railways has been enhanced to Rs. 8 lakhs. Although there is the Motor Vehicles Act for compensation in cases of road accidents, calculating the amount to be paid can take up a lot of time while the need of the families is urgent.
Moreover, no specific laws cover other mishaps like negligence and denial by hospitals, etc. What should be done is that the amount of compensation to be given by the Railways be extended to compensation under other heads as the indirect cause of death remains the same.
Therefore, the government should take cognizance of these deaths and pay compensation to the victims in a fast-paced manner given the vulnerable conditions of the families of these migrant labourers. Further, any action in this regard should be released in the public domain.
---
Simran Kaur is 4th year BA-LLB hons student at Punjab University, Chandigarh; Vasundhra Kaul is 5th year and Varsha Sharma is 4th year LLB students at National Law University (NLU), Delhi; Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay award winning social activist, is visiting Faculty at NLU, Delhi for this semester

Comments

Unknown said…
Hi All!

The corona virus pandemic has only exposed the rampant negligence, corruption and inadequacy present in Indian healthcare system that has always been present even prior to COVID - 19.

My family is also a victim of medical negligence. I’ve started a petition “Medical Council of India, Lilavati Hospital: Cancel License, expel Corrupt Nephrologist Hemant Mehta, Prashant Rajput who killed my Mom” on change.org

Request you to go through the petition and please sign the petition, it will only take you 30 seconds to sign it. Here’s the link:

http://www.change.org/p/medical-council-of-india-lilavati-hospital-cancel-license-expel-corrupt-nephrologist-hemant-mehta-prashant-rajput-who-killed-my-mom

Thanks!
Parag

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Whither SDG goal? India's maternal mortality rate fall target 5.5% per yr, actual 4.5%

By Srinivas Goli, Parul Puri* The maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births) is a key and sensitive parameter used by health policymakers to monitor maternal health conditions in particular and women's status in general in a country.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Reverse progress in fight against hunger? 15.3% of India undernourished: GHI

By Harchand Ram*  Every year October 16 is observed as World Food Day to celebrate the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In the year 2021, the theme for World Food Day is “Our actions are our Future-Better Production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Global Hunger Index: Govt of India response pathetic, 'lacks' scientific empirical evidence

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* Come 16 October – and the world once again focused on the most basic need for a person’s survival: food! The first World Food Day was observed in 1994, to mark the launch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Ever since, the day is marked to highlight the need and importance of food security across the world. The significance is accentuated especially in these difficult times like the C-19 povidandemic. The theme for 2021 is ‘Safe Food Now for a Healthier Tomorrow’, emphasising on the various immediate and long-term benefits of consuming safe and healthy food.

Failure of 'trickle down theory' behind India's poor Global Hunger Index rating

By Dr Gian Singh*  On October 14, 2021, two organisations, Concern Worldwide (An Irish aid agency) and WeltHungerHilfe (a German organization that researches the problem of global hunger), jointly published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. These organizations have included 116 countries in the world hunger rankings.