Friday, April 25, 2008

"Untouchable" Woman Dies After Birth

Maya Devi, a Dalit woman in India, died yesterday, 24 hours after an unassisted birth outside the Kanpur Medical College maternity ward in Uttar Pradesh. Her son died almost immediately after being born, and she herself was only admitted to the hospital after this - where she then died from multiple cardiac arrests.

Was she denied care because she's poor? Or even because she's a woman? Maybe, given locale, her religion?

No. Devi was denied medical care, which ultimately cost her and her son their lives, because the Dalit are considered untouchables in India's social/caste system, and despite claims by many that this system is no longer an active part of Indian life - well, evidence shows the contrary.

It's easy to forget, sometimes, when writing about meat (or brains) in vats, abortion as performance art, and other "first world" issues that there are grievous harms against women still occurring as a matter of routine.

That such an attitude, of refusal to treat someone because of her caste, would permeate the hallowed halls of learning (as I idolize academia), to the point that the chief medical superintendent would let the woman lie there and tell her she wouldn't be helped because of her caste is just an utterly shocking, really horrifying, idea for my admittedly progressive, feminist Western mind. How do you rise to such a position in medicine, and then lack the basic compassion necessary to help someone in pain?

The only small glimmer of positives from this story? Doctor Kiran Pandey, head of the hospital gynecology unit, when hearing of the Devi's case, immediately returned from her out of town trip in an effort to treat Devi (although she and the intensive care staff ultimately failed), and the doctors who so callously refused Devi help have been suspended pending a full investigation.
-Kelly Hills

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