In July 2006 an infant named Prince fell into a 55-foot deep hole and 24×7 media attention ensued. In my little time of earth, it was the first ever incident of its kind that enjoyed priority media attention. We all prayed for Prince’s safety ,while being shown live feeds from the rescue site. You can imagine the scale of importance when even DD News found it worthy enough of covering it live. After spending 48 hours in the claustrophobic hole, he was rescued. In the coming months we saw an unprecedented number of reports of kids falling in borewells and holes. Some rescues were successful like Prince’s while some weren’t.
Recently, we witnessed some appalling imagery. An Odisha man, Dana Manjhi was forced to carry his deceased wife’s body on shoulders for 10 kilometers because an ambulance couldn’t be arranged. It’s shameful as much as it is shocking. In the days that have followed there has been multiplicity of reports of people in backward areas being deprived of basic human dignity. Another report surfaced where people carrying a dead body for her last rites in MP were not allowed to pass through fields as they belonged to the dalit social strata. Eventually the body had to be taken through a pond instead. Another deplorable incident from Madhya Pradesh came to light when a man was forced off a bus and left stranded after his sick wife died during the journey to a hospital.
Today, there are around 3-4 new stories. Familiar ones, a father carrying his dying son on his shoulders, begging for help and ending up with just his cadaver when no one heard his calls for help. More and more stories of lack of basic medical care and ambulances are being brought up every day.
It makes one think, a lot about administrative apathy in a country claiming to be the seventh richest country in the world but more about how these stories would never be known if not for Dana Manjhi’s dead wife. Media attention to this issue is tremendous at this point and that’s the reason this heart wrenching stream of incidences is becoming staple. Just like the children who fell into borewells before Prince fell into one and those who fell one the novelty of kids falling in borewell wore off, lakhs of people have died undignified deaths and many will follow in future. Far away from our sighs.
A few months or even an year after Prince’s rescue the reports of kids falling into ditches and their rescue stopped. Similarly, we are going to milk the issue of a dead body being carried on a man’s shoulder for weeks, or maybe months and then go on with our usual uninformed lives because the topic died out or isn’t trending anymore. The number of kids falling or the people dying were, and are, the same. It’s just that our collective conscience is woken up from its sweet slumber momentarily by what I call ‘The prince effect’. And then it goes back to sleep.