Instances of people dying of snake bites are so common in Kerala that people seldom now feel any anguish or helplessness. That is quite surprising because the state has 100 per cent literacy. Literacy should ostensibly mean awareness and empowerment. Equally bad is the internal security scene that people have given up all hope of getting an effective police force. And we are not referring to Marad here.
The police is not even being considered a deterrent to crime in Kerala. These are the two top-of-the-mind issues, this reporter found, for farmers in Kerala, even more than prices of farm produce, unemployment and poverty. It is sad to see young boys in villages forming vigilante groups to ward off armed robbers in night-long stake out. They are also the ones working in the fields and in industries like brick kilns, who come back home to take turns in shifts for keeping law and order. The police is not even in the picture. Local newspapers are full of crime reports?most daring attempts on life and limbs, akin to the killing fields in Bihar. The modus operandi, as the police would put it, involves armed men breaking open bungalows in desolate places, even when the occupants, mostly senior citizens, are still at home. The tragedy is not the crime as much as the ineffective police patrol to control such criminals who get away with impunity. ?The investigations have mostly ended outrageously low on conviction. The criminals are at large, emboldened by the fact that police is a non-entity?, Madhavan Chandran, a resident of Muvattipuzha, said.
On the second issue, every village in Kerala today has about one case of snake-bite victim dying every month, according to local populace. Though the state government or village panchayats do not keep any record of such fatalities. What should really get people'sgoat is the fact that Kerala has an acclaimed public healthcare system, that even Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen calls a role-model for other states to follow. These primary health centres, which are known as prathmik chikitsa kendram, don'thave even the rudimentary medical facilities to attend to an emergency?no oxygen, no ambulance, no para-medical teams in the event of snake bites and farm-related accidents, or even a doctor who is available 24 hours a day. Snake anti-venom is available only in hospitals in major towns like Tiruvananthapuram and Kochi.
People in towns like Palakkad have to rush snake-bite victims to neighbouring state Tamil Nadu for emergency treatment, which essentially would raise casualty figures because of time lost in transit. The tragedy is that the state governments, now and in the past, have never made any attempts to put in place an emergency and trauma care system to tackle snake-bite cases on priority in spite of alarmingly high incidence of casualties. Leave alone priority, there is not even a policy framework for such an important safety issue for farmers.
The medicine stock at the primary health centres does not include any trauma care drugs, let alone medical personnel to attend to accidents. One doctor from Pathannamthitta derisively referred to the health centres as distribution centres for condoms and paracetamol. That is not any further from reality. If that be so, should one expect any treatment for snake bites, which would require a highly motivated staff and doctors with paraphernalia? The medicine stocks would have to include refrigerated anti-venom, and a medical team which is efficiently quick in responding to exigencies. Most importantly, the medical teams have to be on call 24 hours as snake-bite cases occur in the night as much as in the fields during the day. But Kerala villagers have a lot more than just cavil the primary healthcare centres.
Their misery gets worsened by the fact that there are no hospitals of the Apollo or AIIMS stature. If there are, they are few and far between. The government'spriorities are muddled, especially the ruling Left Front government, which is obsessed with caste-driven, minority-Madhani politics. In the end, education does not necessarily mean empowerment.