Sunday, January 27, 2008

Human organ trade in India

Life is cheap, so are organs
Everybody, including our politicians who cannot look beyond their snotty noses, will feign great shock and horror over the kidney transplant racket that has been exposed this past week in Gurgaon. There will be stinging editorials in newspapers, expressing outrage over the lack of scruples in doctors who are happy to sell their souls for a fistful of silver. The police will be castigated for not being alert and attentive to their primary task of preventing crime. Know-all journalists will come up with 'solutions' to the problem of illegal trade in human organs. Human rights activists will gather at India Gate with hand-crafted placards and hold a candle light vigil for the victims of the racket. Dumb television anchors with their trademark smirk will hold forth on how terrible things are out there beyond the confines of Lutyens' Delhi. Some of them, we can be sure, will slyly suggest that Muslims are the real victims of this horrible trade and equally slyly suppress the fact that most of the touts who helped exploit the poor and the impoverished to part with their kidneys carry Muslim names. Meanwhile, the Indian Medical Association has stolen a march on everybody else by demanding a CBI inquiry.
Less than a month from today, if not sooner, media will be chasing another story, the scandal will be relegated to the inside pages of newspapers and then be deemed too stale to merit space. Television news channels will return to peddling celebrity gossip and cockamamie stories as national news. The Indian Medical Association will be back at doing what it does best -- sleep over the professional conduct (the correct word would be 'misconduct') of doctors whose guiding angel is Josef Mengele and who will do anything for money. The police, once the heat on them is off, will find another law-breaker, scamster, racketeer or human organ trader to fleece and feather their foul nests. Our politicians will take a well-deserved break after exerting themselves by making vacuous speeches and rattling their rusty sabers. Those of them who partake of the money that travels to the top from organised rackets will be mightily displeased that such activities get exposed and cause minor disruptions, no matter how fleeting they may be.
Yes, I am being cynical. But this is also the truth. In this great and wondrous land of ours, organised crime is not the exception but the rule. And each and every criminal enterprise, from kidnapping to organ trade, is facilitated by an elaborate network of contacts in the 'right places'. So long as palms are greased, criminals can get away with anything and everything. The person behind the Gurgaon kidney transplant racket, Dr Amit Kumar, and his associates (only one of whom has been picked up by the police so far) has been minting money from this illicit trade for decades. He ran an organ transplant racket in Mumbai, virtually stealing body parts from poor people and grafting them onto the diseased, decaying and dying bodies of those flush with money. According to news reports published on Saturday, his Mumbai racket was exposed in 1993 after policemen -- they were either honest or unhappy with the hafta -- raided his Kaushalya Nursing Home at Khar. In those days, Dr Amit Kumar was known as Dr Santosh Raut. News reports quote Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria as saying, "We are 100 per cent sure that Kumar is the Santosh Raut that Mumbai's crime branch has been chasing for so many years. He is among the biggest players in this illegal trade."
Big deal. For all their chasing, the police could not track Dr Santosh Raut alias Dr Amit Kumar who merrily went on with his trade after jumping bail. He is believed to have first moved to Jaipur, then Guntur, next Hyderabad and then finally to Gurgaon where his business has been flourishing for the past 13 years, if not more. There was 'shock' and 'outrage' when the horrid details of the Mumbai organ trade racket came to light, including how beggars were lured with no more than food and clothes to part with their kidneys which would then be transplanted to rich foreign clients. One newspaper has been mindful to remind its readers, "The case led to nationwide outrage and the Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994." This Act was meant to curb illicit trade in human organs but has proved to be an abysmal failure. Just as the law that prohibits sex-determination tests has not helped curb female foeticide. In this great nation of ours, which aspires to be a world power, a slothful and corruption-ridden criminal justice system has reduced the law of the land to worse than an ass. Those guilty of committing mind-boggling crimes are rarely, if at all, punished.
A year ago, in January 2007, a similar kidney transplant racket was exposed at Vizhupuram in Chennai. A news report on that racket said, "Nearly 500 kidneys (isn't it amazing how organ transplant rackets are exposed after 500 to 600 victims have paid the price to satiate the lust for lucre of our doctors?) were estimated to have been sold by extremely poor villagers for paltry sums." The 'paltry sums' were often less than Rs 25,000. The victims of the Gurgaon racket are believed to have been paid Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh while clients were charged up to Rs 20 lakh by Dr Amit Kumar and his cohorts. So, what happened to those who ran the Vizhupuram racket? Here's what another news report had to say, "In October 2007, Chennai-based doctor P Ravichandran was arrested for his alleged involvement in the kidney racket... The doctor apparently lured people into donating kidneys, which were then sold to recipients in the Gulf, making huge profits." A third news report, published 10 days ago, takes us to the conclusion of the story, "As police have no proof of his involvement in the racket, Additional Sessions Judge KD Rathod has granted bail to Chennai-based doctor P Ravichandran in the international kidney racket case... Public prosecutor RV Kini said, 'The judge held that there was no proof of the doctor's involvement and also that the investigation in regards to his role was over'."
It's not surprising that Dr Amit Kumar alias whatever-his-real-name-is should have got away all these years with his grisly trade and inhuman practice. Money fetches criminals like him immunity from the law, which in any event, is largely meaningless unless you are dirt poor and can be kicked around by those in authority and power. It is only fitting that the Gurgaon kidney transplant racket should have come to light on Republic Day -- it reflects the real state of affairs that prevails in India and is a measure of the depth to which we have sunk as a nation, as a people and as a society.

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