Madhuri Krishnaswamy, JADS, and organising on health in western India

September 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

Quote from an OpenDemocracy interview with Madhuri:

oS: Can you tell us about your own experience of arrest whilst campaigning for maternity health rights for adivasi and dalit women?

MK: As I mentioned earlier, most actions and campaigns of JADS are met with false criminal charges. The maternal health campaign is no exception. It is not what we have to say on the issue of maternal rights that annoys the system, but that we strongly articulate any rights at all. Importantly also, such campaigns show up as false the tall claims made by the government on funding- sensitive issues like maternal health.

In late 2008, a young, pregnant adivasi woman named Banya bai was thrown out of a primary health centre while in labour by the centre’s staff because she had no money, and they didn’t want to be bothered. She delivered on the road, with the help of a village midwife who just happened to be close by.

I passed by soon after, and learnt from the angry crowd that had gathered what had happened. I informed the nearest police station, asked them to arrange for an ambulance, and also informed the press, which carried the story prominently. JADS petitioned for action against the culprits. But instead of action against the staff of the health centre, a criminal case was registered against me, and 5 others who had been nowhere near the scene of the crime. The main reason for the criminal charges against us – besides the usual knee jerk reaction of the administration – was that a local politician felt that we would work against him in the forthcoming elections, and the local police station was losing a lot of “under- the-table business” because of the spread of the JADS.

There was huge outrage in the area because of what Banya bai as a woman and as an adivasi had gone through, and the police case only added fuel to the fire. Thousands of adivasis, especially women, repeatedly protested, till the state government agreed to drop charges.

A JADS protest against repeated maternal deaths and denial of emergency careProceedings were initiated for dropping charges but, typically, four years later, various “technical reasons” were found for them not being dropped. When I was summoned to the court, our organisation decided that I should refuse bail in protest against such absurd proceedings. I quoted Gandhi – whose photograph hangs behind the judge in every courtroom – that when a nation is enslaved, the right place for every free citizen is in jail, and since cases like this show exactly how enslaved we are, I should be sent to jail. My arrest and the protests that followed did turn a spotlight on what people like Banya bai have to go through.

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