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              Volume 10 |Issue 35 | September 16, 2011 |


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The Kafkaesque State

Akram Hosen Mamun

Liver “donor” Mehdi. Photo: star file

In the past few days, newspapers have written about 200 impoverished people who sold their kidneys in order to purchase basic necessities. It had also been reported that some middlemen of this illegal business have made quite a fortune out of this trade while the real “donors” received only half the amount they were promised at the outset. Even more disturbing is the fact that the kidney transplants have taken place in some of the most reputed hospitals, where some of the most reputed doctors of the country have carried out, with expert hands, the heinous task of severing the kidneys of these poor people from their bodies. Morbid as the whole thing seems it also reminds me of a novel I once read about - a future dystopia, where human limbs were sold beside other, less gruesome commodities in the market, and the affluent, sick but stubborn customers rivaled each other to get their chosen piece. I reckoned at that time that the book was an allegorical, and obviously exaggerated, representation of grotesque consumerism that has led towards the disenfranchisement of common people everywhere. Years later, as I read the reports on the kidney trade, I wonder why this whole affair should not be viewed as an obvious outcome of a corrupt social system rather than an isolated occurrence caused by some amoral individuals.

The people who sold their organs are mainly from Joypurhat, a district in North Bengal. Now, North Bengal is usually known for its fertile lands. These districts are also the major source of our food supplies. But in the last few decades, the death of several rivers has quickened the process of desertification in the region causing significant reduction in the amount of crops that used to grow in these districts. It is also a monga-prone area of the country. Erroneous state policies and inadequate transportation have also contributed in dispossessing the farming community.

But we will focus on the kidney business here. Most of the people who sold their kidneys had to make loan repayments to more than one NGO at a time. Thanks to the scholarships by social scientists, it has become almost common knowledge that the interest rate (around 30% in some cases) on the loans that NGOs and development agencies distribute to rural people is higher than any other bank. Ensnared in these debt traps, poor people, left on the verge of insanity, attempt to find a quick way out by trying something almost suicidal. Poverty dehumanises--one man was reported to have married several times just to be able sell the kidneys of his wives; almost all the members of a large family have sold their kidneys. But these are also not isolated or new phenomenon in contemporary history. Failing to cope with unbearable poverty and seeing no way out of the debt trap, some 1,80,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last few years.

It has often been said that a lower interest rate would result in a decline in the payback rates. Hence the NGOs run the risk of going bankrupt. Unless intended as an irony, these statements reflect colossal cynicism. The NGOs are supposed to reduce the gap between the rich and the extreme poor. But in the Kafkaesque world we live in, these institutions are dispossessing the people whom they were supposed to help financially.

The removal of kidneys had been taking place in some of the most reputed hospitals: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, Birdem, Kidney Foundation and United Hospital. A key middleman, probably the mastermind behind the business has acknowledged that the authorities of some of the reputed hospitals were also involved in this macabre business. That they were skimming off the top or receiving a share is only too obvious.

Mehdi, an orphan in his early 20's was tempted to sell his kidney for TK 2 lakh, but he was later tricked into selling a lobe of his liver. He didn't know the function of the liver in the human body. The doctors at Lab Aid Hospital assured him that giving a part of his liver wouldn't cause further problems and that in time the liver will be okay. It took ten hours to complete the procedure. The team of doctors was led by Dr Zulfiqur Rahman Khan of BSMMUH. The Daily Star reporters have failed to contact him (11 Sept). Meanwhile Mehdi, the 'donor' didn't even get the money he was promised and said that he is barely alive. He can't eat, move, or digest anything.

The people who pulled the strings in this business were people with power and privilege. They didn't have the NGOs snatching their tin roofs. What, then, induced them to take on such an unscrupulous business? Is it the knowledge that one can buy and enjoy virtual impunity for almost any crime in this country? Or, is it the economic system and the advertisement-driven mass culture that breeds insatiable lust for consumption and makes monsters out of us?

We should stop for a moment and look at ourselves. In almost every step we take, we are bombarded with images fetishising some commodities. We are subjected to the same shiny images and the same voices on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, Internet, and even matchboxes. They invade the deepest recesses of our mind. They tell us that true happiness, buoyant health, patriotism, rural development and even love affairs depend on the commodities we own and consume. They make us want to buy things we can't afford.

During the past decade or so, some of our most talented actors, directors, filmmakers and eminent cultural icons have been employed by the advertisement industry. No wonder the images they make seem so catchy. When all that a culture produces is commodity fetishism or consumerism, people have to make real efforts to hold on to their conscience and values.

This is probably the reason why so many unprecedented and unimaginably gross crimes have been taking place in the society.

Coming back to the kidney scandal, punishing the ones who are involved is not enough. Only social, political, cultural and economic changes will stop such crimes from taking place. A more equitable economic system, in which these people could at least find some work to improve their lot, would not have made them so desperately poor in the first place.



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