Bihar: Encephalitis Victims’ Fathers, Kin Booked for Demanding Clean Water, Health Facilities

We lost our children and now we are facing the police case; this is how the poor are treated in this country, they said.

Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : The Hindu

New Delhi: Instead of holding the system and health officials accountable for failing to prevent and control the ongoing suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) outbreak, which has claimed over 150 children’s lives, the Bihar Police have registered an FIR (first information report) against 19 people for staging a protest by blocking traffic on the Muzaffarpur-Hajipur highway on June 18. After seven children died of the brain fever in the past 14 days in Harvanshpur village in Vaishali district of the state, the protesters were demanding water tankers for their village.

The protesters have been booked under sections 147, 148 and 149, 188, 283, 353 and 504 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Those against whom the case has been slapped also include parents whose children have died of the suspected AES.

“Our two kids (aged seven and two years) succumbed to the disease (suspected AES). The elder one was playing. Suddenly, he began vomiting. I asked him to take rest. After finishing work, when I went to the room where he was sleeping to check him, he was unconscious. His body had stiffened and eyes were abnormal. We immediately took him on a motorbike to a doctor in Lalganj town. The doctor referred him to a government hospital in Hajipur. After initial treatment there, he was once again referred to PMCH (Patna Medical College and Hospital) in Patna. But we took them to Muzaffarpur’s SKMCH (Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital – which has emerged as the epicenter of the children deaths) as it was convenient for us. He died there at 3 pm. When we returned with his dead body, the younger one (who was two-year-old) also fell ill. Leaving the elder son’s dead body, we took him to the same government hospital in Hajipur that referred him too to the PMCH where she died at 12 midnight,” the wife of Chhatri Sahni, a resident of Pachiyari Tola at Harvashpur village in Vaishali district, told NewsClick.

After the death of their two children, they were so afraid that they have sent their rest two children to their paternal parents’ place so that they don’t contract any infection and fall ill.

Rajesh Sahni’s daughter Rupa also has died during this outbreak. “It was five in the evening when Rupa felt unwell. She was having continuous seizures. We rushed her to medical (SKMCH) where she died within 24 hours. We did not take her body to our home fearing that infection may spread to other children. We performed her burial at a crematorium located a few kilometers away from the hospital,” he said adding that he too has sent their children to his relatives’ place to ensure safety.

He said after death of seven children in the village, when the residents protested against the district administration and the government to fulfil their longstanding demand for clean water, they were booked. “We protested demanding tankers of clean water, but false cases were slapped against us. Even those who are paralysed and cannot move have also been booked. We hit roads because the administration had not been listening to us even after the death of our children. We want to live; we don’t want our children to die. We don’t have water in our village. Our demand is legitimate,” Sahni said.

The government and its administration “woke up” after the protest – he claimed – and began a door-to-door check-up of children in Harvanshpur.

Another accused, Ramdev Sahni from the same village, lost his two-year-old daughter to AES. “I have also been named in the FIR. Is demanding clean water to drink a crime? The police action proves that being poor is a curse. It is also a warning us against raising voice even it is related to your life and death. This is how poor in this country are treated by governments,” he said.

When asked about reasons behind the police action, Vaishali Superintendent of Police Dr Manavjit Singh Dhillon told NewsClick, “The first information report was lodged against the 19 people after they blocked the busy Muzaffarpur-Hajipur highway for four hours on June 18. It resulted into traffic chaos and an ambulance carrying a child, who had suffered injuries in an accident, was not given way, which resulted in his death. In addition, the protesters were also attacking motorists.”

“In addition to 19 named accused, 30 others are unnamed. There have been no arrest so far. Investigations are on as it is done in first information reports. We are also making efforts to identify unnamed accused,” he said.

But the accused have denied the charges of rioting and assault. “Yes, we had blocked the road but it was a peaceful protest. We don’t know about the allegation of death of the child as being claimed by the SP,” they added.

A large number of men against whom FIR has been registered are so to have fled the village, fearing arrest and police crackdown. They said the police come to the village in search of people named in the FIR. As a result, all those who have been “implicated in the false case” have fled the village fearing arrest and crackdown.

However, both the SP and Bhagwanpur Police Station SHO Sanjay Kumar denied that the police are conducting raids. “No raid is being conducted. Since the death of the children; the village is witnessing visits of leaders belonging to political parties. And therefore, the police have been deployed. Even I keep going to the village but that is regular patrol, not to arrest anyone,” said the SHO.

Asked if the accused also include those who have lost their children to the AES, he said, “Yes, two of them are named in the FIR. But we are sensible enough and have sympathy for them. We are also treating them as people in distress, not as hardened criminals.”

Meanwhile, Bihar continues to battle AES. With another death on Tuesday morning, according to the state’s Health Department, the toll has reached 131 in Muzaffarpur district. The death was reported from government-run SKMCH. A total of 111 deaths have been reported from government-run SKMCH and 20 from Kejriwal Hospital. The two hospitals have admitted a total of 600 brain fever patients so far this month.

A total of 150 children have died in 20 districts of the state since June 1. Over 700 children have been afflicted by AES.

Courtesy: News Click



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