The focus on Bengal’s dengue crisis came only after the suspension of a 63-year old doctor employed with the health department in Barasat. Arunachal Dutta Choudhury, a chest physician wrote a Facebook post alleging that the government hospitals in the state were ill-prepared to handle the increasing number of patients affected by dengue or suspected to be affected by it. On October 8 he wrote a post in Bengali, which when translated reads as follows:
“October 6 was my admission (duty) day. From 9 am that day to 9 am the next day, I was responsible for patient admissions, referrals and even death. After spending 24 hours (on duty), what will my condition be?
“Every patient was suffering from fever. Many of them had blood reports stating that they had dengue… But doctors couldn’t attend to them as there were around 500 patients… District health authorities have been saying that the hospital has all necessary arrangements (to tackle dengue). But the hospital management is helpless. There is an unwritten instruction to hide the fact that the hospital lacks necessary facilities. Or else, there will be pressure.”
Since then Choudhury has regularly taken to Facebook, to write about the issue – not in prose but in poetry, mocking the government’s response to the crisis, which he claims was focused more on cover-up rather than on preventive measures.
The Mamata administration is known for cracking down on individuals who use social media platform to express dissent. In 2012, Jadavpur professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for circulating a cartoon of the chief minister.
One of the poems that apparently landed Choudhury in trouble was this:
“Amar dengue bola mana/Taai naam rakhi ajana/ amar taal khey jaaye godi/amaye harate chaas votey” (I can’t utter the word Dengue/ that’s why I have named it something unknown/ my chair is in trouble/ Do you want me to be voted out?)
Perhaps what Choudhury was referring to was the fact that government hospitals have been attributing some Dengue deaths to reasons other than caused by the vector-borne disease to under-report the number of deaths caused by it — an issue that is fast snowballing into a political crisis for the chief minister. An article published in The Scroll titled, “Dengue politics in Bengal: A tiny insect has turned into a pesky problem for Mamata Banerjee” refers to a Bengali daily quoting a victim’s family member, “Anjana Kundu of Bongaon town said her husband was diagnosed with dengue but the doctor at a Kolkata nursing home wrote “sudden cardio-respiratory arrest in a case of sepsis and multiple-organ failure” on his death certificate.”
Mamata Bannerjee, who holds the health portfolio has herself admitted to only 13 dengue deaths in West Bengal at a Press conference on 30 October, while several media reports suggest the figures stand at at least 40 deaths caused by Dengue.
Choudhury, however, seems to have kept his lyrical sense of humour intact even after his suspension. In an interview to The Indian Express, he says:
People are looking at it as suspension, but I am relieved to get such a holiday
Choudhury, a chest physician in the general department of the government hospital in North 24 Pargana district, also says that he would now stick to writing and sharing romantic poems.
“Now I will only share romantic poems on social media because they won’t offend anyone,” he says.
Even as Choudhury, who reportedly was one of the doctors at the forefront of tackling dengue patients in the Barasat hospital, stays in suspension, the issue of dengue deaths is taking a political turn. More so, because Mamata Banerjee, holds the health portfolio and has often made a big deal of carrying out inspection of government hospitals with media in tow. Also, with this, BJP has perhaps got its first civic issue to target Mamata Banerjee and has been quick to react to it. West Bengal president Dilip Ghosh has written to Union Health Minister J P Nadda seeking his intervention the matter. He writes in his letter,
“Under such precarious situation where common people are victims and state government is busy subverting the facts, I am compelled to request you to kindly intervene in this ‘dengue epidemic situation’ in West Bengal immediately and please take necessary steps to provide relief to the people.
The politics of it aside, Choudhury’s suspension has brought Bengal’s dengue crisis to the notice of mainstream media. Mamata Banerjee would now find it difficult to evade the issue any longer.