Hospital tragedy casts doubt on Indian PM Modi’s narrative of development

Hospital tragedy casts doubt on Indian PM Modi’s narrative of development
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Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath walks out after visiting the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday. (AFP)
Hospital tragedy casts doubt on Indian PM Modi’s narrative of development
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An Indian relative holds the body of a child while walking out of Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2017

Hospital tragedy casts doubt on Indian PM Modi’s narrative of development

Hospital tragedy casts doubt on Indian PM Modi’s narrative of development

NEW DELHI: Ramkrishan moved his three-month-old son from one clinic to another on Thursday evening. When he was finally referred to Baba Raghav Das Medical College Gorakhpur, popularly known as BRDM, some 30 km from his village Belipur, he saw a ray of hope.
Gorakhpur is a district town in eastern Indian Uttar Pradesh (UP), very close to the border with Nepal and around 270 km away from the state capital, Lucknow.
With a little effort Ramkrishan found a bed in the hospital, which boasts a capacity of over 800 beds. Suddenly his son began to collapse and when the doctor was called in, he ordered an immediate infusion of oxygen into the baby’s body. Here, the 36-year old farmer’s luck ran out.
Minutes after the oxygen mask was put on the baby’s face, the supply of the life-saving gas stopped and within an hour, the newborn was cold and stiff despite last-minute attempts at manual resuscitation.
For two hours on Thursday night last week between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the biggest government hospital in the district with a population of more than 4.5 million, operated without liquid oxygen causing the deaths of more than 30 babies within an hour.
The contractor for the oxygen cylinders disrupted the supply over an unpaid bill which had been due for six months. He had already served notice to the hospital and threatened to withdraw the supply if the payment were not made by July 31. However, he continued supplying oxygen until Aug. 4 and then stopped. According to reports, the hospital owes the oxygen company some $90,000.
“The hospital killed my little baby. Had I known that this was the state of affairs in the hospital I would have never stepped into this deadly place,” said Ramkrishan, fuming with anger, in a telephone conversation with Arab News.
According to hospital staff, more than 60 deaths have occurred in the hospital since Aug. 6. Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a children-rights advocate has termed the tragedy “a massacre” in a tweet.
But the ruling BJP is not willing to accept it as a tragedy and a failure of governance. When Arab News contacted the BJP spokesperson in UP, Rakesh Tripathi, he flatly refused to take any blame for the human suffering.
“This is not a tragedy that has taken place today. Gorakhpur has been witnessing the deaths of children since 1978. The whole region suffers from extreme backwardness and poverty and the BJP government in UP is working hard to redress the sufferings of the people,” said Tripathi.
He blamed the previous government for neglecting health care and not paying proper attention to the medical problems that have been troubling eastern India for a long time.
The tragedy becomes all the more pronounced because it is in the home district of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a poster boy for the Hindu right-wing party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A controversial politician known for his rabble-rousing speeches, his appointment as the head of one India’s largest states in March this year came in for trenchant criticism by liberals in India.
Now questions are being raised about the merit of choosing a man who has been indulging in divisive politics ever since he assumed office. Within days of becoming chief minister, he introduced a blanket ban on all slaughterhouses rendering many Muslims jobless. He launched a campaign to save cows, an animal many Hindus consider sacred, and his followers began a policy of rampant vigilantism whereby any Muslim transporting cows was beaten up and charged with killing the animal which is a punishable offense. A few weeks ago he launched a cow ambulance.
“This government has been completely focussed on ideology and not governance after coming to power,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, who has written a very popular biography of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Talking to Arab News, he further added, “Just imagine if the tragedy had taken place in a veterinary hospital and 60 cows died there; then, there would have been a large hue and cry from the ruling party.”
Congress, the country’s main opposition party, has blamed Yogi for the tragedy. “The BJP govt is responsible and should punish the negligent ones who caused this tragedy,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the party.
A local BJP legislator told Arab News on condition of anonymity that “too much ideological politics is taking its toll on the party and sooner or later, we will pay the price electorally.”
Gorakhpur is adjacent to Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi. The tragedy raises a question over his claims of ushering in a new era of development in India. In his election campaign in UP he promised to bring about a revolutionary change in the health care system in Gorakhpur, which has been experiencing outbreaks of encephalitis since the late 1990s.
“No doubt the image of Modi, the only selling point for the BJP, is going to be impacted. It now raises questions about his style of governance. You don’t want to inject systematic changes but indulge in constant rhetoric. This kind of politics has limitations,” said Mukhopadhyay.
Politically, UP holds the key to power in Delhi. It has 80 parliamentary seats. The BJP won 71 seats in the last elections in 2014 and that brought the Hindu party into power in Delhi. If Modi wants to come back to power in 2019, a sweeping victory in the eastern Indian state is a must. The tragedy in Gorakhpur comes as a shock to the party which has been boasting of good governance, a clean India and ushering in a new narrative of development.
The very fact that Modi himself is focusing all his attention on the hospital speaks volumes about the significance the UP holds for BJP’s remaining in power.
The opposition sees an opportunity in the tragedy. Since Saturday all national and regional opposition leaders have visited the hospital and come down heavily on the BJP.
“The BJP will have to change its track if it is serious in coming to power in Delhi in 2019,” said Pawan Kumar, a Gorakhpur based journalist. In a conversation with Arab News, he said: “Religious polarization can bring electoral dividends but people have not voted for the party for this; they believed the BJP’s rhetoric of development. If the party fails on that count, it cannot think of returning to power in 2019.”

India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances

India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances
Updated 29 July 2021

India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances

India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances
  • Blinken, Jaishankar agree to expand multilateral security partnership

NEW DELHI: Growing concerns over China and turmoil in Afghanistan dominated talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Wednesday, with both officials urging the Taliban and Kabul to resolve issues to create a country that is “at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

Jaishankar said in a joint press conference in New Delhi at the end of a two-hour meeting with his US counterpart: “We spoke at length about regional concerns, multilateral institutions and global issues.”

It is Blinken’s first visit to India after assuming charge as US President Joe Biden’s secretary of state.

“Regarding Afghanistan, it is essential that peace negotiations are taken seriously by all parties,” Jaishankar said, adding: “The world wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbors.”

Blinken appreciated India’s contributions to Kabul’s development and talked about working together to stabilize the war-ravaged country.

“We discussed regional security scenarios, including Afghanistan,” Blinken said in his opening statement.

“India and the US share a common view on a peaceful, secured and stable Afghanistan. India has made and continues to make vital contributions to Afghanistan’s stability and development,” he added.

New Delhi has spent billions on development projects in Afghanistan in recent years and is a firm backer of the Kabul government.

However, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan forced India to evacuate 50 staff from two consulates in the country as the Taliban gained even more territory amid a drawdown of US-led foreign forces.

In April, President Biden ordered the complete withdrawal of about 3,000 US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending the US’ longest war.

Earlier this month, Biden gave an updated timeline and said that the US military mission would end by Aug. 31.

Taliban fighters have swept across the country in recent weeks, with the Pentagon admitting on July 21 that half of all district centers — surrounding 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals — were now in the hands of the Taliban.

Blinken said that he disapproved of the Taliban’s “military adventure” as it “does not serve the objective of peace” in Afghanistan.

“Taking over the country by force and abusing the rights of the people is not the path to achieve those objectives. There is only one path, and that is at the negotiation table to resolve the conflict peacefully,” the US official said.

He emphasized that the Taliban’s military advances were “troubling” and that Washington remains engaged in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban is making advances in district centers; there are reports of them committing atrocities in Afghanistan. It’s deeply troubling. It certainly doesn’t speak well about their intentions for the country. We remain engaged in Afghanistan,” he added.

India’s human rights issues was also brought up in discussions, with Blinken holding talks with civil society leaders in Delhi ahead of his meeting with Jaishankar.

“Shared values — freedom and equality — are key, and none of us have done enough. We need to strengthen our democratic institutions. This is at the core of our relationship, beyond strategic and economic ties,” Blinken said.

Since being elected to office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to Hindu voters and enacting the Citizenship Amendment Law two years ago, which Muslims argue is discriminatory.

Debate over India’s human rights record became even more pronounced following the death in custody of 87-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested on charges of supporting ultra-Maoists while awaiting bail.

“One of the elements Americans admire most is a fundamental freedom and human rights. That’s how we define India. India’s democracy is powered by free-thinking citizens,” Blinken said.

The US secretary of state also met a Tibetan delegation in Delhi and ended his short visit to the capital by meeting with Modi.

Both sides also discussed the upcoming meeting in September of the Quad group of countries comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US. The Quad will hold the summit in Washington, which Modi is expected to attend.

Blinken, however, denied that the Quad had been created to counter China’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region following Beijing’s accusations that the “Asian NATO” group was designed to harm China.

The US has long viewed India as a key partner in efforts to overpower China’s economic and military might in the Indo-Pacific region, but Blinken rejected the view that the Quad was a “military alliance.”

He said: “What is Quad? It’s quite simple but important. Its purpose is to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, and stability in the region.

“We share a vision — India and the US — of a free, open and secure atmosphere in the Indo-Pacific and will work together to make that a reality,” he added.

Foreign policy experts see Blinken’s visit as a “sign of maturity” in India-US ties.

“The press conference was indicative of how the US-India relationship has matured,” Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director of the Takshashila Institution based in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, told Arab News.

“There was no mention of our western neighbor, and the focus was on regional security, economic recovery and global issues such as climate change,” he added, before noting the convergence between the two countries on the situation in Afghanistan.

“On Afghanistan, both countries seem to agree that a Taliban that forces itself on the people of Afghanistan will face the consequences in terms of international recognition and access, and both the countries feel the need for resolution through the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Kotasthane said.

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down
Updated 29 July 2021

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down
  • Displaced residents ask Philippines leader to make good on his promise and rebuild war-torn city during last months of presidency

MANILA: The head of a task force leading rehabilitation efforts in the Philippines’ southern city of Marawi said on Wednesday he was confident that the war-torn region would “rise again” before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from office in June next year.

This follows Duterte’s comments during his final state of the nation address (SONA) on Monday when he admitted to “racing against time” to rebuild the city, which was left in ruins after a five-month bloody conflict between government forces and Daesh-linked militants in 2017.

“Rebuilding a better Marawi remains today still not completed,” Duterte said as he called on authorities to hasten reconstruction efforts.

“To Task Force Bangon Marawi (TBFM), we need to race against time. And you have to finish the necessary work to rehabilitate the war-torn city and bring its displaced families back home,” he added.

Over 100,000 residents were forced to flee their homes at the height of the conflict that left an estimated 1,200 people dead.

Four years after Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi, the only city in the Philippines with a Muslim majority, and set up TBFM, many displaced residents continue to live in squalid conditions in temporary shelters.

TBFM was given a deadline until 2021 to get the city back on its feet, with its head, Eduardo Del Rosario, saying on Wednesday that reconstruction of the city would be completed within 11 months of Duterte’s presidency.

“On behalf of TFBM and our 56 implementing agencies, I would like to assure our president and our Maranaw brothers and sisters that we will complete the rehabilitation of all major infrastructures in Marawi City within his administration,” Del Rosario, who is also the Housing Settlements and Urban Development secretary, told Arab News.

He added that the overall rehabilitation work was “70 to 75 percent complete,” while more projects will conclude by December as per the master development plan.

“We have already awarded 279 permanent shelters since February, and two mosques inside the most affected area have been inaugurated,” Del Rosario said, adding: “More housing units will be awarded soon while other projects are scheduled to be inaugurated in the coming months.”

The TBFM head acknowledged that the limitations posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and heavy rains in Marawi in the past few months had slowed the rebuilding process but stressed that “rehabilitation remains on track.”

“We are committed to finishing all public infrastructures within the term of President Duterte,” he said.

Earlier, a statement released by his office said that Del Rosario had been conducting monthly inspections of the rehabilitation work in Marawi since construction went into full swing in July 2020.

In his recent visit to the city last week, the TFBM chief spearheaded an initiative to award 170 permanent shelters to displaced families.

Displaced residents from sectors 1 to 3 inside ground zero returned home in August last year, while those in sectors 4 to 7 can expect to come back by October after all the road network projects are completed, Del Rosario said.

“Returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) only need to secure the necessary permits from the city government to ensure their smooth return as there are overlapping claims to some lots. We need to establish legal ownership to avoid conflict,” he added.

Besides the housing units, work on a 19-km transcentral road; the Tolali village complex with a health station and an Islamic seminary; the fully-equipped Rorogagus health station; a central material recovery facility; the Lilod Guimba, Banggolo and Mapandi bridges; and the Disomangcop Mosque has been completed as well.

“This is in addition to the sustained livelihood and other assistance programs being implemented by various government and non-government organizations,” the TFBM chief said.

Despite the assurances, however, many affected families expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s recovery efforts.

Rumblings about massive delays, poor planning and the lack of consultation, plus allegations of corruption, have hounded the government since day one of the initiative.

In the first week of July, a newly established coalition of 15 civil society organizations (CSOs) and alliances in Marawi called on both houses of Congress to expedite the passage of the Marawi compensation bill.

They also urged the president to extend his unequivocal support for the compensation in his final SONA speech.

Much to their disappointment, however, Duterte made no mention of the Marawi compensation bill in his speech.

“This is our plea to our president and lawmakers — to certify the passing of the compensation bill as urgent, so that we might have some justice for what happened in Marawi,” peacebuilding NGO International Alert Philippines wrote in an email to Arab News, quoting Ding Cali, member of the newly established CSO Marawi Compensation Advocates (CSO-MCA) and director of the Kalimudan sa Ranao Foundation.

Meanwhile, Saripada Pacasum Jr., member of the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch, challenged lawmakers by saying: “If you really care for us, prove it through this compensation bill. It’s not the only solution, but it will help alleviate our pain from the loss of lives and livelihood.”

Leaders of the organizations representing the evacuees said they wanted Duterte “to demonstrate that he is a man of his word” by delivering on his promise to rebuild Marawi and turn it into a prosperous city.

“President Duterte promised that Marawi will rise again as it was before. But how can it rise again if the people do not have support?” Sultan Hamidullah Atar of RIDO, Inc., said in a statement.

The coalition also urged TBFM to prioritize installing necessities such as water and electricity “rather than build structures that people do not need.”

IDPs, according to the CSO-MCA, have “absolutely no need for a modern convention center, sports stadium, or museum at present. The focus must be on the needs of the displaced people rather than just infrastructure alone.”

“The government is focusing too much on infrastructure facilities. Even if all government infrastructures were installed in ground zero, if there are no people because they have no resources [to go back], these would just be a waste. Who will use the cultural center and the mosques that they build if people cannot go back because the government has not supported them?” Atar said.

The coalition said a compensation package would enable IDPs to rebuild their lives and re-establish trust in the government. “Not all of the suffering experienced by the people of Marawi will be addressed by the bill, but it is a tool for them to bounce back,” Atar added.

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
Updated 28 July 2021

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
  • "We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends," Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted
  • Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France

LONDON: People fully vaccinated in the United States and European Union — except France — will be allowed to travel to England without having to quarantine on arrival, the UK government announced on Wednesday.
“We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted, adding that the policy will come into force from 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on August 2.
Travelers fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency will be able to travel from any country on the British government’s “amber” traffic light list without having to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
They will still need to do a pre-departure test and take another test on day two after arriving in England.
Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France.
Those traveling from an amber list country, which includes most of Europe and the US, who are not fully vaccinated will still have to quarantine on arrival.
The government also confirmed the restart of international cruises.
“This is progress we can all enjoy,” wrote Shapps.
Britain is in the midst of another wave of the virus due to the so-called delta variant, although case numbers have dropped over the past week, while its vaccine drive has seen more than 70 percent of adults fully jabbed.
The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own health policies, and decide their own foreign travel rules.

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
Updated 28 July 2021

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
Updated 28 July 2021

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
  • Government is telling young girls who were forced overseas that they are not victims, Reprieve director tells Arab News

LONDON: British women and children trafficked overseas into terror groups would be barred from returning under the government’s new immigration bill, an investigation has revealed.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which passed its second reading last week, will give Home Secretary Priti Patel the power to deny victims protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 if they are trafficked by a terrorist organization.

This denial of assistance will be justified by classifying the trafficking victims as a threat to national security. 

The new legislation is being introduced despite the Home Office being forced to U-turn after it claimed a child who was trafficked to Afghanistan by a terrorist gang “did not fall under the definition of modern slavery.”

Patel later admitted that the department’s actions were based on a “misunderstanding of the law” and withdrew it. 

Home Office lawyers said in 2019 that it was “not her position or policy” to separate trafficking victims from the protection they are owed when terrorist organizations are involved.

Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told Arab News that “the government is effectively telling young girls taken to Syria by an older man ‘you weren’t trafficked.’ 

“It’s telling women who had no choice but to go to Syria with their abusive, controlling husbands that they weren’t trafficked either. And it’s telling the teenagers groomed online by predators that they cannot have been trafficked because the gang in question was ISIS,” she said, using another term for the terror group Daesh.

She added: “It flies in the face of everything we know about trafficking — and is illegal under international law.”

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. 

The government’s own guidance notes that a child cannot consent to being trafficked, even though they may appear a “willing participant.”

Reprieve has found that of the Britons held in camps in northeastern Syria, 20 are women and 35 are children and that nearly two-thirds of the women met the legal definition of a trafficking victim. 

However, the government has ignored calls to recover them to Britain. Most of the women have had their citizenship removed.

Women in the camp who meet the standard for being designated as trafficking victims include a teenager who was taken to Syria by a male relative aged just 12. She was raped, forced into marriage at 14 and was pregnant via rape at 15.

The Home Office has denied that its new clause breaks any obligations to trafficking victims. “All decisions to exclude people from provisions are considered on a case-by-case basis and will safeguard those with legitimate modern slavery claims,” a spokesman said.