Tuesday, June 12, 2012

6 States, 1000 Kilometers, and an Amazing 3 Day Journey

Ferozepur, Punjab, to Babina, Uttar Pradesh. 
A long line on the map....and a longer journey across (the unpredictable) Indian roads!

Starting from Ferozepur, a small city in Punjab, known mostly for its strategic location due to the border that it shares with Pakistan, and ending at Babina, a small city right on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; the journey took us across diverse landscapes, temperatures, and road qualities!

So while the countryside of Punjab offered lush fields and green streams, and roadside eateries with yum food (also called 'dhabas') aplenty; our drive through Delhi and the region surrounding it took us over some of the best roads the country has to offer. 

Agra, and the wondrous Taj Mahal, and hundreds of temples, Gurudwaras, and Masjids, also, luckily, charted themselves on to our course.

However, the thrill of the ride went up a notch, only after we entered the 'not so famous' Chambal region, beyond Gwalior, towards Jhansi. Once the abode of Phoolan Devi and her gang of dacoits, the terrain of this area as seen in the picture below, offers an almost perfect breeding ground for the dacoits to quickly escape and hide from anyone. 

These shallow valley like formations flanked the dusty roads all the way between Gwalior and Jhansi and the driver's constant narration of dacoity stories on these roads did nothing to help us feel more secure!! The windows were securely wound up and nobody asked for a drink or pee break as we negotiated the broken down and in some places made completely of sand, roads, till Jhansi.

The countryside between Jhansi and Babina, where the border between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh lazes along like a snake on a hot summer day, has a striking feature. Though mostly barren and with small shrubs as the main vegetation, each hillock in the region has a small temple or sacred rock formation, right on its summit. Whether meant to plead for protection from the dacoits or to please the Gods to ask for rain and less harsh weather, these temples or formations are usually small but stand out due to the barrenness of the area surrounding them, and give the region a surreal feel, especially as the sun sets.

The traveler, having made this intriguing and interesting journey, however, did not lose her focus on health :) The first learning from the journey was that across the 1000 kilometeres traveled, we did not come across a SINGLE trauma center or a medical facility capable of handling road accident victims, or even people with basic medical needs, except within the cities of New Delhi, Agra, and Gwalior. It is scary and surprising that one might be expected to travel 10o-odd kilometers to access even basic health services. 

Another observation is the complete lack of facilities for clean washrooms for women, across the entire distance traveled! So while men attend to nature's calls right at the side of the road even within the cities, women are expected to use only the toilets in restaurants (if any!). A huge problem, especially in the completely barren terrain that offers no huge plants or trees to squat behind safely!!

One striking observation is that the more I travel on, the more I realize that the basic problems plaguing health in our country remain the same, whether it is a Gadchandur, an Ahmednagar, or a Babina. While the public health system of the State is defunct, and completely impotent, the medical practitioners of the government hospitals practice privately offering services inaccessible to almost everybody for whom the State's health system is meant. In addition, quackery, as well as uncontrolled private sector health facilities with almost ZERO quality control are rampant. 

The lack of awareness among people, and an almost God-like respect for anybody with a stethoscope, are exploited beyond imagination to lead to a situation where people reject even the few services which are infact offered by the State's health system, and instead opt for private nursing homes which poison the health of the community while maintaining a vice-like grip on the minds of people through their disinformation, and administration of 'injections' which is considered to be the only effective treatment by many. 

I am sure these issues bring back memories of my stories from Gadchandur. They also apply to the area you live in, and if you ponder a little, they apply to the entire country!! But here, I digress :) 

We are currently writing from Babina, and exploring public health in this part of the country. The stories, hopefully, shall continue. Amen.


makethebest said...

Nice write-up and lovely pics. I am not so sure about the medical facilities. They may have been there but were not close to the highway that you were on.
And I seem to have seen boards along the highway from Delhi to Amritsar with emergency numbers to call in case of an accident.One wishes that one never has to resort to it though.

drhimangi said...

Thank you so much for reading and for the appreciation!
Hmmm..we didn't come across any numbers but that could be because we took a different route out of Punjab, through doraha.
I am sure elsewhere as well, medical facilities exist but the question is how far they are, from the place where they might be needed in an emergency. I agree with you though that one can only wish one never has to access them.

Jean said...

What can we do, drhimangi, what can we do? Let's start with Punjab on Monday. Tell them how it is in reality and how they are failing and how to turn it round. We can do it .. together!