August 19 is ‘observed’ as World Humanitarian Day. Yesterday was August 19.

Yesterday, on August 19, we had two developments that, we can say, left us in bitter taste.

And to add to the misery, one came from an institution that is often seen as the last resort to get justice in India – the Supreme Court.

Read this:

“I am very much disappointed. 18 years back, I lost faith in God and 18 years later, I lost faith in judiciary. One thing which I have realised is that the court of law is not same for the rich and the poor. Rich people can get away by paying money but for ordinary citizens, judiciary is different. Had it been the lives of children of politicians and judges, justice would have been done within a year. Judiciary “cannot understand the plight of a mother who has stood 18 years before the court to get disappointment. Nobody cares about ordinary people but rich and powerful get away.”

These words from a frustrated mother are symbolic of a larger (and deepening) mindset in our society (getting wider realization with every such development). The mother, Neelam Krishnamurthy, had lost two of her children in the 1997 fire in Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema that had killed 59 people.

Verdicts in the case, including this one yesterday in the Supreme Court, clearly tell owners were responsible and thus Ansals, the owners, were directly culpable.

And under a legal system, where our Constitution sees rightful interest of even one life above all else, the loss of 59 lives by ‘criminal negligence’ and ‘administrative manipulation’ should have called for a harsher punishment.

But, here it was no punishment at all and for people like Ansals who are billionaires – (an ordinary Indian may not earn Rs. 1 crore in his entire life) a sum of 60 crore doesn’t mean much – if it can buy them freedom from the legal procedure.

We don’t know what led to this decision-making that will certainly set a precedent, but its message in masses has certainly not gone well – with many equating this decision as ‘inhumane’. And incidentally (and accidently), the decision came on World Humanitarian Day.

On the same day, the news of a similar disturbing development came from West Bengal. According to a news channel, doctors of West Bengal’s main hospital in Kolkata, indicted in report of causing death of a teenager (medical negligence), were ‘let off only a warning’.

Here we need to keep in mind that West Bengal’s health portfolio is with chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.

But efforts and desperate pleas of economically poor parents fell to deaf ears. Even a case has not been registered yet in this ghastly crime against humanity – where a child was denied her ‘right to life’ in an ‘absolute’ way. And this medical negligence case is not the first one in West Bengal, or in India. And sadly, it will not be the last one.

The two development on World Humanitarian Day came as shockers – with varying degrees gloominess.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Uphaar Cinema Fire case is potent enough to set a precedent where high and mighty will feel above the law by being able to buy anything with their riches.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ says the common saying and the Uphaar case can rightly be placed in the league where justice is denied by frustrating the victims who had lost their family members – 18 years is a long time – a further victimization.

Legal remedy is an expensive affair in our society, especially in higher courts, i.e., High Court and Supreme Court – and with the Supreme Court’s decision, the notion has got reaffirmed again. Ansals could afford the best legal minds (with their deep pockets) and the case was delayed to a disturbing wait of 18 years.

And what happened, even after 18 years, rubbed salt into the wounds of the victims. Everything cannot be purchased or compensated with money or material means, especially a person’s life – our Constitution is based on that – and here, the society lost its 59 people – and there was no physical punishment but a monetary fine.

The two developments yesterday were potently, symbolically anti-humanitarian, anti-thesis, to the underlying concept of World Humanitarian Day that says – “It’s a day to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world”.

Well, we need humanitarian feelings first – and acts to inspire and inculcate action, driven by such feelings – something that was hit hard yesterday.

Hope, it will not go unnoticed. Hope, the developments that were thrust upon us, will see a different, humanitarian finality in the days to come.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


A Supreme Court ruling says there cannot be more than 30 female sterilization surgeries by a team of doctors in a day. The ruling also says a doctor cannot perform more than 10 such surgeries in a day. The convention also says such surgeries can only be performed in a government run facility.

The doctor in question, rewarded by the state health minister of Chhattisgarh for scoring the 50,000 mark of such surgeries and arrested now, performed 83 surgeries in five hours in a private hospital that was not in operation for months.

13 of these women died after developing complications. Many are still serious and in hospitals. And there are reports of hospitalization from some other camps as well.

And ‘such’ deaths make for regular news flow. What happened in Chhattisgarh is not a standalone incident. Yes, but the way it happened pulled the global attention. A Google survey will return with reports in almost every language.

Every human life lost owing to such misplaced and ill-conceived human priorities is an utter shame but we are living in an age of lost priorities.

Smaller number of deaths don’t figure at all beyond the local news coverage. Even this huge calamity was not potent enough to storm a national outrage and serious debate. No social media campaign was launched. No ‘such’ self-proclaimed advocates came forward. It did not trend beyond the realm of news making machinery.

And ‘such’ deaths just didn’t happen now. They have had a long history, dotting the timeline of the independent India.

Female sterilization surgery has been in regular use. Earlier, it was a state policy tool, with targets explicitly fixed. In fact, it was a state policy forcefully implemented during the Emergency years. Later, to make it look more progressive and inclusive, the process was made voluntary with more emphasis on educating the participants on family planning practices.

But most of it remained on papers, especially in small town, rural and hinterland India. Targets were fixed unofficially. Targets are still fixed unofficially. And ‘such’ surgeries have continued with their botched-up legacy.

Statistical reports say 12 women die every day in India owing to the botched sterilization surgeries or complications arising after the surgeries. Official figures say over 1400 people died in ‘such’ surgeries between 2003 and 2012, almost of them being women, and the statistical history dates deep back in time.

Now, India is a vast country when we map it in terms of its population. Around 1.25 billion people, distributed mostly across the small town or rural India, and most of the them just somehow surviving their living conditions. Enough is a word seldom arrived in their lives on their day-to-day requirements.

Hunger, healthcare, education and shelter are chronic issues still affecting the large swaths of Indian demographic landscape and the ‘subjects’ of most such female sterilization camps come from these population realms.

According to the reports, the governments offers monetary and other incentives to the ‘subjects’. Yes ‘subjects’ because the conceiver and developers of such plans don’t see them beyond this as revealed by the continuance of such target driven practices.

The reports say the monetary reward for women (tubectomy) is Rs. 1000 while the monetary compensation for men (vasectomy) is Rs. 2000. Why this gap? This is when tubectomy has greater complications than vasectomy. Some other reports say the incentive is Rs. 1400 adding that the National Population Policy discourages it. At the same time, the local health workers and doctors are also provided with incentives to bring more and more women to the sterilization surgery camps, like this Chhattisgarh doctor was awarded by the state government.

It is by now a deeply entrenched social malaise made permanent by the tentacles of a patriarchal society. Women are still considered secondary or inferior family members in social formations that make for most of the ‘subjects’ of ‘such’ female sterilization camps. The extreme position it has taken should become clear from the fact that we never discuss ‘male sterilization camps’ or ‘male sterilization deaths’.

And all for Rs. 1000 or Rs. 1400 or so! From an urban, metro middle-class lifestyle, that doesn’t make anything.

But for poor families dotting the Indian population across its geographical formations, it is a great sum that they rarely find in their possession in one go. And crushed by the conceited male egos and libidos, they choose or are coaxed to opt for or are forced to go for that ‘elusive stash of cash’, never thinking or questioning that their husbands doing so would be easier and probably more lucrative.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


Getty Images – In this 1950 photo, a group of women sit below posters advocating family planning in a doctor’s clinic in the Indian village of Badlapur in Maharashtra.

A well thought out photograph tells all. It is the essay in itself. The sayings say so. And it is true always, as this photograph tells.

Midst the controversy (that didn’t pull the outrage it should have, nationally or locally) on 10 sterilization deaths in Chhattisgarh (which got global media pull), I came across this photograph in a The Wall Street Journal’s web write-up*.

The photo tells us how wrong our priorities were when we began, as it dates back to 1950, shot in a Maharashtra village.

And it also explains why, in the 21st Century India, that claims to be a space power, a missile power, an Information Technology power and an economic power house, we still come across regular news headlines like this.

This 1950 photograph had family planning posters hanging in a doctor’s clinic in a Maharashtra village.

And the posters were in English, in a village, probably Marathi speaking (as being in Maharashtra). It was not in some town, city or metro. Also, way back in 1950, literacy rate in India was in pathetic situation. And here the subjects were women. Education for them is still a secondary priority across a large section of the Indian society. So, think of 1950!

And in those days, we began with wrong priorities, this photograph is symbolic of that. The messages were packaged in alienated words and the ground work was supported with draconian practices like ‘forced’ female sterilization camps. Yes, the camps.

Such camps and such ‘forced’ practices (though some would like to say incentivized) can be seen throughout the history of independent India.

And this Chhattisgarh camp was also a forced (incentivized) one where 10 women lost their lives owing to the expertise of the state medical practitioners who botched up the surgical process that is routinely performed at ‘camp’ levels in many parts of India.

*Why India Continues to Sterilize Its Women

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –