AHMEDABAD: If the 2002 riots brought the communal divide in the city out in the open, the spiralling toll in the ongoing hooch tragedy is
bringing a class divide to the fore. For most readers, this would be almost as if it is someone else’s tragedy, not mine. Rough calculations show that almost 90 per cent of those who have perished after consuming the deadly brew in the poor neighbourhoods of eastern Ahmedabad are Dalits.
Who else would buy a Rs 10 pouch of stinking stuff to get a decent high? The tragedy hasn’t touched the Scotch-drinking elite of the western areas who flout the dry laws of Gandhiji’s Gujarat with equal impunity and never get caught. Drawing-room conversation is full of police bashing, not the human tragedy unfolding a few kilometres away across the Sabarmati. Never in the history of Gujarat have so many people lost their lives in a hooch tragedy. But, for a city which recorded 800 deaths in the 2001 earthquake and a similar toll in the communal riot a year later, these are probably still smaller numbers.
But leave alone the complete disconnect of the gated communities in the western areas for whom any area east of Sabarmati seems remote. Even in Kankaria, the heart of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Maninagar where most of these deaths have been reported, the fun and frolic hasn’t stopped around the newly-created entertainment zone around the lake.
Here, again, one has to pay Rs 10 to get a glimpse of Modi’s vision for Gujarat. Crowds are still thronging here every evening, leaving the victims to the mercy of a public health system which looks clearly over-stretched and sluggish. This reaction is different from the way the city reacted last July when serial blasts ripped apart these very areas and people rushed to hospitals to find out if they could be of any help. So many children have been orphaned and women widowed in the last four days. Yet, the army of NGOs and volunteers that the city is proud of haven’t shown up at the hospitals where the wails of crying women are deafening.
Women, whose husbands are battling with death, are moving around in a daze with prescriptions for medicines available only in the open market, often costing thousands of rupees. Many families need help desperately. Anybody cares?