Is it a crime to belong to the Tribal community or to be poor in Odisha? In a video that is bound to haunt the conscience of ‘shining’ India, a Tribal man named Dana Majhi is seen walking with the body of his wife tied in a bed sheet after he was denied mortuary van from the hospital where she had died of tuberculosis in the state’s poorest district Kalahandi. The hospital authorities had no sympathy for Dana and his 12-year-old daughter who had to walk 60 km to reach their village. Kalahandi’s name is widely synonymous with backwardness and starvation deaths.
Dana’s pleas for a van fell on deaf ears as he was poor and did not have the money to pay for it. Frustrated by their apathy and inhuman response, he wrapped his 42-year-old wife Amang Dei’s body in a sheet, hoisted it on his shoulder and began to walk to his village home in Melghara along with his weeping daughter.
After he had walked 10 km, luckily he was spotted by a local media crew, who then helped them reach their home. “I told the hospital authorities that I am a poor man and cannot afford a vehicle. I kept on requesting them but they said they could not help,” Dana told the television crew.
A rattled state government has ordered a probe into the incident.
“The District Collector of Kalahandi has ordered an inquiry into the incident. Sub-Collector of Bhawanipatna has been directed to conduct the probe and submit a report at the earliest,” state Urban Development Minister Pushpendra Singh Deo, who hails from Kalahandi district, said in Bhubaneswar.
“Sub-Collector Sukanta Tripathy has been asked to ascertain whether the tribal man, Dana Majhi, was denied a vehicle to take his wife’s body from the hospital,” a senior official said.
Meanwhile in an apparent clean chit to the hospital, Kalahandi’s District Collector Brunda D has alleged that Majhi left the hospital in the middle of the night without informing anyone.
“If he had asked for help, we would have provided it,” she said adding that the administration has now offered him help with the funeral under a government scheme.
What is more disgusting is that this February, the Odisha government had launched the “Mahaparayana” scheme offering free transport of bodies from government hospitals, but that service was not available to Majhi.