Fearless Delhi women protesters inspire national movement

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In this file photo taken on January 6, 2020, protesters hold placards as they listen to speakers in the Shaheen Bagh, which has been blocked off by demonstrators protesting against India's new citizenship law, near the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. (AFP)
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In this picture taken on January 16, 2020, protesters take part in a demonstration for the fifth consecutive day against India's new citizenship law, at Mansoor Ali Park in Allahabad. (AFP)
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A young girl holds an Indian flag as she accompanies her mother to sit-in protest, led by women, against a new citizenship law that opponents say threatens India's secular identity, at Shaheen Bagh neighborhood of New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (AP)
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Indian Muslims along with activists of Bhim Army shout slogans against a new Citizenship law, after Friday prayers in New Delhi, India, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Fearless Delhi women protesters inspire national movement

  • Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear the government is getting ready to draw up a national citizenship register that could strip them of their nationality, though New Delhi denies this and calls the law a “humanitarian” gesture
  • The government in neighboring Uttar Pradesh state is fiercely loyal to right wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has cracked down on protesters

NEW DELHI: Defiant women who have been blocking a New Delhi highway for more than four weeks in protest against a bitterly disputed citizenship law have inspired thousands across India to copy their challenge to the Hindu nationalist government.
Supported by volunteers who bring biryani meals, chai and blankets, groups have started occupation protests in about 20 cities across the country of 1.3 billion people to demand the repeal of the law that opponents say is anti-Muslim.
Nearly all pay tribute to the 200 grandmothers and housewives and students who sit and sleep across the main road in the Shaheen Bagh district of Delhi, fighting a law that would give passports to “persecuted” religious minorities from three neighboring countries but only non-Muslims.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in rallies across India since parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 11.
Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear the government is getting ready to draw up a national citizenship register that could strip them of their nationality, though New Delhi denies this and calls the law a “humanitarian” gesture.
Though at least 27 people have died in violence around some demonstrations, protesters have taken over parks and streets in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh states as well as two new occupations in Delhi.
Srijan Chawla, a student protest leader in Mumbai, said “Shaheen Bagh has inspired a lot of women in this country to go on the streets and protest. Be it Kolkata, be it Delhi, be it here in Mumbai.”
Hundreds of protesters have spent nearly three weeks on public land in Gaya in Bihar. A huge poster of Mahatma Gandhi hangs over one entrance.
More than 10 other non-stop protests are taking place in the eastern state, including at Sabzi Bagh near the capital Patna.
“It is like another Shaheen Bagh,” said Afzal Imam, a former mayor of Patna.
“We cannot sit silent at home when the government is hellbent on stealing our citizenship,” said Shagufta Amin an activist at Sabzi Bagh, where weekend crowds swell to thousands.

The government in neighboring Uttar Pradesh state is fiercely loyal to right wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has cracked down on protesters. Many of the 19 people killed there were allegedly hit by police bullets. Some 6,000 people were detained for taking to the streets.
Hundreds of women camped in a park in Varanasi, Modi’s constituency, face eviction notices after police filed a case for “disobedience.”
“This protest is like a mountain, we will not move from here until our demands are met,” Nasreen Zafar, one of the women, told reporters.
In the central city of Indore a protest by hundreds of people in a central park has also faced police attempts to evict them.
Some opposition ruled states have quietly encouraged the protesters though.
In West Bengal, hundreds of supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress party camp out on a road in the capital Kolkata. Police protect some 150 women occupying a park.
Political commentator Manisha Priyam said the protests signalled that Indians wanted to defend the equality and justice enshrined in the constitution and shattered stereotypes about Muslim women.
“Muslim women would not normally come out on streets to protest but now they are leading the fight for equality and justice,” Priyam told AFP.
While Hindus and other religions have joined the protests, the public has not always appreciated the disruption to their lives however.
Delhi commuters increasingly complain about the Shaheen Bagh women who have caused huge morning and evening traffic jams.
“We are for the right to protest but blocking a road and holding up commuters for over a month is as obnoxious as the condemned law,” said Delhi resident Mihir Tripathi.

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”