The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, has released an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signed by 20 residents of Varanasi, seeking immediate action to help tuberculosis patients in that ancient city. The letter was prepared on the basis of evidence recorded by a people’s tribunal.
The following are excerpts from the letter:
Mr. Mohmoodul Hassan, son of Mohammad Hassan, residing at Lohta village, Varanasi district, has been suffering from tuberculosis for the past 22 years. Mohmoodul was diagnosed as having tuberculosis by the Banaras Hindu University Hospital in Varanasi.
Mohmoodul is a handloom weaver. Because of abject poverty and the lack of a proper income due to the decline of the handloom weaving industry in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in Varanasi, Mohmoodul’s family is finding it hard to make both ends meet. The family has hardly anything to eat. The entire family is suffering from starvation and resultant malnourishment.
Mohmoodul can only find work two to three days each week and only earns about Rs.50 a day. With this low income he cannot purchase sufficient food to feed his family. Afsana, Mohmoodul’s wife, earns Rs.40 a week doing embroidery work. Even their ten-year-old son, Sadiq, earns a small income by weaving, which helps to keep the family alive.
Mohmoodul has only obtained an Above-Poverty-Line (APL) card. The APL card does not allow Mohmoodul to obtain food grains from the ration shop at a subsidized price. Though Mohmoodul had applied for a Below-Poverty-Line (BPL) card, it was denied to him.
Even though Mohmoodul is suffering from tuberculosis, there are no public health facilities in Varanasi where he can get free treatment for his ailment. The public health system in Varanasi is not geared up even to provide emergency medical care for the poor. When Mohmoodul’s wife was in an advanced state of pregnancy early this year, medical care was denied to her at the Kashi Vidyapith Primary Health Centre since the family could not bribe the staff at the centre. There is a health insurance scheme launched by the government for handloom weavers. However, membership in the scheme is limited to the members of the Handloom Weavers’ Association. One of the conditions for joining the Association is ‘not to earn any income other than from weaving.’ This condition disqualifies hundreds of handloom weavers from becoming members of the Association.
Mohmoodul and his family are not alone. There are dozens of other persons who suffer from tuberculosis in Lohta. Mr. Sirajuddin, Mr. Ilias Ansari, his son Salman and daughter Parvin, Mr. Rahmat Ali and his wife Ajgari, Mr. Wahamoodul Hasan, Ms. Rehna, Ms. Zubeda Bibi, Ms. Aswa, Mr. Badruddin, Mr. Mustaquim, Ms. Farjana and Mr. Mohammod Gulam Ali are among the persons from the village who have been identified as suffering from tuberculosis. In fact, an estimated 70% of the weavers in Varanasi suffer from tuberculosis. Despite the existence of some governmental agencies with sufficient resources, whose specific mandate is to assist tuberculosis patients and to provide treatment, none of them has received any kind of assistance from these agencies.
The doctors in government clinics and hospitals only provide medication for a short period, sometimes for only two days, and then tell their patients to obtain further medication from private medical shops. There have also been situations in which patients diagnosed as having tuberculosis by private doctors were later told by government hospitals that they are not infected with tuberculosis, with a view to denying them treatment.
The right to health is a fundamental right. So far the State or the Central government has not devised any credible plans to identify those weavers who need assistance for health security in Uttar Pradesh. An officer from the State Handloom Department, who participated in a people’s tribunal, jointly organized by the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, Action Aid International – India, Bunkar Dastakar Adhikar Manch and the Asian Human Rights Commission on 18 December 2007, informed the tribunal and the public that the Handloom Department has no mechanism to identify weavers who are in need of assistance. Almost all the participants who deposed before the tribunal said that when they approach the government hospitals they are asked to pay money even for taking an x-ray.
In these circumstances, the undersigned request you to:
1. take immediate measures to ensure that the persons named above, and their families, receive medical attention provided by the government, at the earliest, for treating their tuberculosis
2. take steps to initiate an immediate survey conducted by the government to assess and to identify the weavers and their family members suffering from tuberculosis in Uttar Pradesh, starting the exercise in the Varanasi District
3. direct the State government to take immediate measures so that the weavers who require the services of the Public Food Distribution System receive proper ration cards based on their actual financial status
1. Sirrajuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
2. Naseem Akhtar, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
3. Surendra Prasad, Village Amasaha, Post Office Baanspaar, Maharajgunj
4. Chhote Laal, Village Harpur Mahant, Post Office Pakadi Tribhuwanpur, Maharajgunj
5. Rajendra Prasad, PVCHR, Varanasi
6. Ved Prakash Ojha, Brahmnagar, Robertsgunj, Sonbhadra
7. Niyaz Ansari, Urdu Daily, Varis Awadh, Varanasi
8. Mukhtaar, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
9. Ramji, Lallapura, Varanasi
10. Vijay Kumar, Lallapura, Varanasi
11. Jamalluddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
12. Shamimuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
13. Samsudoha, Lohata, Varanasi
14. Khalilulha, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
15. Moinuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
16. Baddrauddin - Bajardeeha, Varanasi 17. Mohammad Farukh, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
18. Amar Jama, Rewadi Talab, Varanasi
19. Akbar Ali, Kaajipura khurd, Varanasi
20. Mohammad Shakeel Ansari, Lallapura, Varanasi