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Harsh Mander: Will we learn anything from the mass pyres and floating bodies?


As the gravest health emergency to overwhelm the globe in a century continues to rage, the unbridled Covid-19 virus has laid bare the abject failure of India’s health system to secure even elementary levels of health-care for its people.

Everything fell short disastrously, sometimes catastrophically: hospital beds, doctors, nurses, testing kits, medical oxygen, vaccination, PPE kits, ICU units, ventilators and essential medicines. Funeral pyres grimly lit up for over a month the night skies in most Indian cities, and rotting half-eaten bodies floated in rivers in the countryside.

It has become imperative that we ask – how, where, when did we go so badly wrong? The Inequality Report 2021 of Oxfam India tries to find some answers. Titled India’s Unequal Healthcare Story, the report is a sobering account of the consequences of policy choices made over many decades, choices that favoured the rich and the private for-profit health sector, starved the public health sector and for all practical purposes abandoned the poor in sickness and in death.

Looking at the numbers

In the earlier decades after Independence, the country haltingly built its public health system, even though inadequately resourced with funds, infrastructure and trained health personnel. But in the years of neo-liberal economic policies, policy-makers effectively cast away the public health…

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