(This article was first published on 27th July, 2009, on Insight blog)
Today, while reading one of our national English dailies, The Hindu, I came across a news item regarding the rekindling of the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, demanding Scheduled Tribe status. They are holding a three day caste-panchayat to support their demand. Along side the information on the panchayat, the news item also carried a photograph of Gujjar men sitting peacefully in the panchayat. However, what caught my attention was its caption – 'Show of force'. What does this caption mean?
Photo 1. Published by The Hindu on 27th July 2009. Photo Caption - 'Show of force': The mahapanchayat led by Gujjar leader Colonel Kirori Singh Bainsla at Penchla village in Karoli district on Sunday to demand Scheduled Tribe status for the community.
I immediately googled for images that were published by The Hindu in 2006 during the anti-OBC reservation agitation that was led by 'upper' caste doctors from the premier government medical colleges in Delhi. I tried to find out whether they had some similar captions. In this process, I also ended up reading a few of their news items covering the 'upper' caste doctors' agitation.
I am reproducing above, today's photo as well as a couple of other photos published by The Hindu in 2006 (below) with their photo captions in order to explain what is troubling me while reading the photo captions.
Photo 2. Published by The Hindu on April 28, 2006. Photo Caption - 'NO' TO QUOTA: Medical students under the forum 'Youth for Equality' protesting against the proposed reservation for OBCs in Central Government institutions, at the India Gate in New Delhi on Thursday.
Why did The Hindu choose to describe the peaceful gathering of Gujjars as a 'show of force' and a similar gathering by 'upper' caste medical students only as a 'protest'? Not even a single photo carried by The Hindu during that period conveyed any similar meaning. Was this agitation of 'upper' caste medical students not a 'show of force' as well?
One reason could be the Gujjar agitation taking a violent turn last year so much so that the Honourable Supreme Court had to call it a 'National Shame' and also a few lives were lost and some public property was destroyed. Thanks to the extensive media coverage of this violence, we all are very well aware of these facts about the Gujjar agitation.
Photo 3. Published by The Hindu on August 26, 2006. Photo Caption - INSIDE DELHI: The scene on Parliament Street on Friday before the anti-reservation agitation by medicos was suspended.
Similarly, during the anti-OBC reservation agitation, again, the media gave extensive coverage to the protesting 'upper' caste medical students in Delhi and around. However, unlike its coverage of the Gujjar agitation, the media never focused on the 'show of force' and violence unleashed by these 'upper' caste medicos that resulted in paralysing medical services in government hospitals in Delhi and in several other places.
For more than twenty days, the premier medical institutions of this country, such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which are thronged daily by thousands of patients mainly from poor backgrounds and requiring specialised medical attention, suffering from severe illnesses, were left completely paralysed.
I shudder to even think of how many human lives would have been lost during that period and the amount of inconvenience other patients and their families would have suffered as these are the only institutions that provide better health care facilities compared to other government hospitals as well as private nursing homes and hospitals.
If you don't believe what I am writing, just visit AIIMS or Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in Delhi where patients and their family members start standing in a queue from five in the morning to get their medical cards. Just talk to a few of them and then you might realise that many come from far-flung areas of this country with severe illnesses and with these medical institutions as their only hope. Just by looking at them you might also realise that most of these people would never be able to afford private medical expenses.
But for our media these were non-issues. Not even a single news paper, magazine or TV channel even uttered a word about this. All of them were very busy making heroes out of these 'upper' caste medicos – modern day revolutionaries (À la Bhagat Singh of Rang de Basanti fame) who are fighting to cure the country of its biggest disease, that is caste-based reservations.
No amount of propaganda can convince me that many patients, those who could have been saved otherwise, have not died because of this agitation. To find their numbers is only a matter of research for me.
Perhaps it will help our readers more to understand the gravity of the situation if I narrate one particular incident. During this agitation, I was also involved with many other like-minded people in organising Dalit, Tribal and OBC students and doctors against the vicious propaganda that was launched by the anti-reservationists. During one such meeting I met one Tribal junior doctor who was doing his internship in AIIMS.
He narrated an incident that took place during the time of this anti-reservation agitation. While on duty, he came across a case of a 6 year old child with a severe head injury after falling from the roof of his house. The boy required urgent attention and perhaps even a surgery. When the doctor contacted one of his senior doctors to undertake necessary medication as it required expert hands, the senior doctor bluntly refused to even look at the case citing the lack of more junior doctors, as all of them were on strike, to assist him in this case. The parents of the child were told to go to any private hospital which they had already done. They came to AIIMS as they were not able to afford the amount, Rs. 80,000, which the private nursing home was demanding for the child's surgery.
But the senior doctor remained unfazed and the parents had to leave the AIIMS campus without any treatment being given to their child. It is hardly a guess what would have happened to that child and his family. So distraught was the tribal junior doctor with this experience that within a few days he resigned from AIIMS.
The Indian media completely forgot that these 'upper' caste medicos were just a bunch of people, blinded by their caste arrogance, who were trying to blackmail the Indian government and the country by jeopardising something that constitutes the most essential service, to protect their caste interests.
Does it ever cross your mind that why it was only the medical students and doctors who spearheaded this anti-reservation campaign? Why it was only the premier government medical institutions that became the centre of anti-reservation agitations rather than any other universities, colleges or professional colleges like IITs?
It will not be difficult for you to guess that it was all very strategic. Only by jeopardising medical services could they bring the government on their knees. Who would have cared if the agitation was based in any university or professional college like engineering or management and spearheaded by their students?
Apart from these facts, I would like to share something more sinister about this agitation and about how the linkages of caste interests and commercial interests made this agitation what it was.
As I mentioned earlier, we were trying to organise our students to counter the anti-reservation propaganda and also to prevent the caste-based harassment of Dalit students that was rampant during this anti-reservation agitation (just have a look at Thorat committee report on AIIMS). We planned to organise a rally inviting students from across the country at Ramlila ground.
Just after applying for the permission to hold the rally at Ramlila ground we started receiving phone calls from persons who provide tents, mikes and other logistical support to organise any event at Ramlila ground. Perhaps they have connections with the MCD officials who immediately pass them the telephone numbers of the organisers. One of the caterers even visited my JNU hostel room and tried to negotiate with me. I asked him about the total expenses for tents and other logistical support. He gave me a quote of around Rs 8,00,000. He was very amused when I told him about our helplessness to afford that cost. Then he told me something that was very interesting.
He told me, "How can you say that this is a very big amount and you cannot afford. Just two-three days back there was another student rally and we provided them with tents etc. They paid the same amount."
He was not able to name the group that organised the rally but told me that it was related to the reservation issue. I enquired about who actually made the payment to him and he gave me the name of two big private hospitals of Delhi together with the name of a renowned heart surgeon who works with another big private hospital in Delhi.
So now it is anybody's guess who funded this agitation, with what purpose and who would have been the biggest beneficiaries of this almost month-long strike that completely paralysed the medical facilities of government hospitals in New Delhi.
It would not have been very difficult for the media to get these truths. They just needed to scratch a bit beneath the five star tents, dug up illegally in AIIMS lawns for the protesters, openly defying the high court ban, with water sprinkling coolers, crates of Bisleri water bottles and hundreds of buses used for ferrying the agitating 'upper' caste medicos.
But in India, the caste interests of some are automatically turned into national interests and therefore the role of media was nothing surprising. It was not surprising that while reporting on this agitation the media never mentioned, even in passing, about the real identity of these protestors. For them these were just medical students/medicos/junior doctors against OBC reservation, and not 'upper' caste doctors/medicos opposing OBC reservations.
Also, unsurprising was the role of the judiciary too - it took suo motu notice of the Gujjar agitation and called it a 'National Shame' but ordered the AIIMS administration to pay full salaries to the agitating upper caste medicos for the entire period of their strike.
Finally, we had our rally on 8th June 2006 at Jantar Mantar, not at Ramlila Ground, with one-tenth of the expenses that were quoted by the Ramlila Ground caterer/contractor.
Will you still say that I am thinking a little too much about an innocuous looking photo caption published by The Hindu?
Anoop Kumar's email id is: anoopkheri(at)gmail(dot)com