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Riddled with Brahmanical mindset, India's health care 'serving' corporate interests

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 
In this second part of my conversation (click here for first part), Dr Manisha Bangar speaks about the health crisis in India how the government is trying to privatise things, and where our response during the Corona period was lacking. She also gives us an understanding of people opposing nutritious meals for children in the mid-day meal.
A practicing senior consultant gastroenterologist and transplant hepatologist, with around 20 years of clinical cum research and teaching experience, as a social as well as political activist, commenting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-announced ‘bajao thali’, light torch or diyas and clap for the ‘frontline’ workers so that ‘Corona’ can be done away with, Dr Bangar wrote in a Facebook post (reproduced by The Telegraph):
“Dear Indians! Pay no heed to ‘ghantology gyan’ of Modi-BJP. Please don’t clap for me! I have been attending to patients with severe contaminating infections for two decades and will continue to do so in times of corona but I don’t want anyone to clap for me on March 22.
“Instead, as responsible citizens who possess fundamental rights I want you to demand and pressurise the Modi-led BJP government to do the needful:
  • Spell out the allocation of disaster relief funds and medical aid strategy for all.
  • Get him to combat this by pushing at least double the amount of funds that was required for the statue of Sardar Patel.
  • Get him to tell corporates and his industrialists whom he let escape or bailed out with your money, that now it’s their turn to bail out the country from the crisis of their own making.
  • Declare the tons of gold silver money looted, hoarded and now accumulated in temples of Tirupati Padmanabhan Shirdi Siddhivinayak Puri and many more as being state treasure to be used in times of such crisis.
“Who would say ‘No’ to applause? It is heart-warming to have people thank medical professionals. But there is nothing backing it up... If we fail to control the spread, the government will blame external forces or supernatural powers.
“I expected clarity from his (Modi’s) speech. He could have said how much funds will be given, assure the public that private hospitals can’t deny them treatment and will have to do testing at the cost the government fixes. Leaders and governments have the information to anticipate. Knowing Indian society and the stratification that exists based on religion, he should have known hoarding will happen and announced steps to deal with it.”
Indeed, the Prime Minister could have at least come out and said that unscientific claims like gaumutra (cow urine) curing the coronavirus infection or the banging of plates chasing away the virus are false. On the contrary, social media handles supportive of the BJP put out antiquated, religion-coloured ignorant thinking.
Sharing her concern on the handling of the midday meal (MDM) scheme, Dr Bangar told me: “Most of the children affected with infection could be easily managed with safe drinking water which is not there and therefore children have swelling of tummies and bloated feet… It is not a disease. It is the manifestation of a failed state. They are not getting enough food to eat..”
She added, “It is clear that children do not get good food to eat. The MDM scheme is faulty. They have their nationalistic agenda and Brahmanical prejudices. The upper caste people are making policies and there is a huge gap. Fact is that these caste prejudices come handy in defining our policies. It is clearly visible when dietary things are put in ‘Brahmanical mode’ as you deny eggs and such things to children. If you don’t want to give them meat products then give the children paneer and two glasses of milk every day.”
She said, since the advent of the MDM, the thrust was put on pulses, dals. If you want to give vegetarian food, give them paneer, soya, and two glasses of milk daily. These kinds of things need to be looked into.
Dr Bangar exposed the public-private partnership (PPP) model thus: “Accessible health care is the buzz word. Public private partnership (PPP) is the buzz word but the fact is it benefits the corporates, the upper castes and upper classes”.
She said, Corona has exposed our health care system. It has been a big eye opener not just for India but for entire world. Western world has already learned a lot of lessons but not us. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have done better than us in the health sector. Even Pakistan is doing good now. The budgetary allocation is not even 1% of GDP.
Critical of India’s PPP model, Dr Bangar said, it was meant to help the crony corporates. Public money was used to support corporate houses. She underlined, “Ten big hospitals openly claimed bankruptcy. Loans were given by public sector banks to these hospitals but they were unable to seek accountability from them. It is the revenue department which closed them. No criminal cases were filed against them. No questions were asked. Lots of money was spent. What did we get? 70% of the health sector is privatised and it got exposed during Covid.”
Dr Bangar said, “Private hospitals are not giving any social security such as insurance, PPF, etc. to their own employees. Things are happening because there is no ‘regulatory’ mechanism. As there is no loyalty to any particular institutions due to uncertainty, doctors and health workers are moving for ‘better’ options. The biggest casualty in this is the training of these health workers.”
According to her, “Today’s corporate hospitals do not have skilled staff because they have no time for training. The same happens to consultants as they move from one place to another. Privatisation has not delivered. It has in fact put tremendous pressure on health workers as well as doctors.” She regretted, “Health care was never in national discourse. It is talked about while talking about UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
She criticised the government policy of ‘medical tourism’ which is meant to provide ‘cheap’ medical services for the Europeans and Americans while ‘ensuring’ things are ‘out of reach’ for the common Indians. Similarly, she was extremely critical of insurance schemes such as Arogyasri and Ayushman Bharat schemes.
“Hospital and insurance companies are conniving with each other. Government money is going to the insurance companies and not really helping the poor. Arogyasri was a failure. They said we will give it to 50 crore people. Population of people the below poverty line (BPL) in India is more than 80 crore. Instead of strengthening public health system at the primary health centre (PHC) level, the government was focussing more on technology driven things. Almost 50% percent amount given for the salary. There could have been more PHCs and ambulances in tribal areas but the money was actually wasted”, she told me.
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*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat, twitter: @freetohumanity

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