Social Justice begins with Health
A research paper published on a government website suggests that, “all-natural-cause mortality and morbidity increased with increased air pollution”. This has some informed residents thinking about moving out of Delhi. On a news website FirstPost.com, Tarique Anwar writes, “If you want your kid to grow up into a normal, healthy person Delhi is not the place where he/she should be”. I have had such thoughts myself. Is Delhi’s air soon going to drive people out? I hope that happens.
This may be better than Delhi’s air killing people.
So where does Social Justice fit into this? Well the fact is air does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the bureaucrat and the rickshaw puller. It is the same for everyone who breathes it in. If they breathe it in. The well-to-do have something in common in their behavior. They ardently avoid any time outside on the streets. They wake up in their air-conditioned homes, well rested after a night of breathing in good quality air. Then they get ready and jump inside their cars. Mind you, before they enter the car, their driver has been running the AC for some 10 minutes. The car is now as cool as home was — and has nice fresh air. They now embark upon their journey — catching the glimpse of those walking by on the street under the hot sun and breathing that dreadful air. There are rich enough people around in this city who can somewhat secure themselves from the poison that simmers.
Of course, it is not fool proof. But it is as good as it gets here. On top of this, if they cough a couple of times, their secretary gets on the phone and an appointment with the doctor is set up.
The rich have bought the good air and good health services. The poor simply manage.
Now, there is room to discuss social justice. The average Delhi resident must not pay for what is largely a problem created by governmental Myopia and by the actions of the rich. To address this problem, the government could declare the air-pollution related illnesses a public liability and provide medical and monetary benefits so that those with pennies in their pocket can afford to see a doctor and buy medication. The government can also increase tax on vehicles that ply on the roads. The Supreme Court has asked for a response from the government in this regard. Hopefully, some concrete steps will be taken.
We need to treat air as a public resource. We need to stop taking it for granted. There are obvious challenges to this. We may not be ideally placed development-wise to undertake a big change in policy.
There will be many who will say a little bad air is alright if they get jobs and India continues its upward economic flight.
But maybe we can take small incremental steps to chart a vision for a future where Delhi does not become synonymous with bad air. We need a mid term plan which details steps that will be taken over the next 5 to 10 years.
Far from the choke of Delhi, there are many in rural parts of the country who suffer from Tuberculosis. They live in areas where doctors are few and far apart. Medication is a luxury. Life is a struggle.
It is in these part of the country that an Non-Profit named CARE India is using its resources to make healthcare affordable and accessible. Understanding that India bears 21% of the global TB burden, it has initiated a project named AXSHYA in Madhya Pradesh. The project aims to tackle the problem through various channels including one where they assist the government. Using awareness among the Civil Society, it aims to help government’s Revised National TB Control Programme reach 374 districts in 23 states across India.
In West Bengal, CARE India’s project looks at healthcare for those suffering from Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Under this project, the organization gives special attention to illiterate, Adivasi and Dalit communities and women patients. This is Social Justice in action.
Social Justice is not always about Robin Hood stealing from the wealthy and distributing the loot among the poor.
It should not be about that. Social Justice should be about bringing socially excluded sections under the protective umbrella of our social structure. It should be about delivering healthcare to those who cannot afford it. It is not just humane to do so. It is imperative that when some of us can afford the unoccupied Antilla, all of us should be able to afford quality healthcare.
That is Social Justice.