An interesting drama is unfolding in Andhra Pradesh.
On June 08 chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy unusually ordered a CB-CID inquiry into the charges leveled by a rural medical officer Dr P Anita Rani, who is in charge of the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Penumur, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh.
The doctor in question says she does not trust the CB-CID. She refused to meet with CB-CID sleuths.
She complained that the local YSR Congress leaders were harassing her, abusing with casteist slurs and threatening her. What rattled the state was the charge that YSRC leaders had videographed her when she was in the washroom.
Dr Anita Rani said she was in the possession of the video clips.
She says the alleged harassment is a consequence of her efforts to discipline the staff at the PHC who she claims were irregular, corrupt and were running a racket of illegal abortions.
Stating that chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy himself declared some time back that he had no faith in the state police, Dr Anita Rani said the CB-CID has started inquiry with a pre-prepared script. She is demanding a probe by the CBI.
Normally, it is difficult for a doctor working in a remote PHC to draw the attention of the chief minister of a state. As PHCs occupy the lowest rung in the public healthcare system, the doctors working in PHCs live away from the glare of the media.
But Dr Anita Rani is an altogether a different kettle of fish. She is vocal, a Dalit, and a fighter to the core. She won half a dozen cases that were filed, challenging the so-called disciplinary actions initiated against her in the 15 years of her service. She was reinstated in her job by the court, she said.
Why The YSRC Dislikes Dr Anita
Local YSRC leaders at Penumur have a grouse against her. They have the support of Deputy chief minister K Narayanaswamy, also a Dalit leader, who incidentally, represents the Gangadhara Nellore Assembly constituency, of which Penumur is a part.
In politics, the first thing the ruling party elite do after assuming office is to take control of the local administration. They ensure that their men are posted in all key offices such as revenue, panchayat, irrigation, police, PHC and others, to avoid any friction between the party and the government at the grassroots level. What Penumur is witnessing now is the friction arising out of the YSRC’s assertion of authority over the PHC.
Dr Anita Rani asserts that the PHC is a den of corruption and has the blessings of YSRC leaders, adding that the husbands of some staff members are party functionaries.
She rubbed the ruling party on the wrong side by attempting to curb the illegal activities of the staff, who, she said, were irregular, corrupt, and long-standing with political connections.
The staff brought the “high-handedness” of the doctor to the notice of the local YSRC satraps who were waiting for an opportunity to make her fall in line.
How The YSRC Hit Back
On March 22, the local YSRC leaders attacked her on the pretext that she refused to attend on a patient they referred. They allegedly locked her up in a room and abused her with casteist slurs. This incident, happened on a hectic day when she was busy with COVID-19 related video conferences and all normal activities had been suspended.
As the leaders are very close to the deputy chief minister, things moved swiftly. On April 01 she was transferred to a hospital in Chittoor, and on April 03, she was again shifted to the district Tuberculosis Centre, Chittoor.
She challenged her two transfers in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Her petition is scheduled for hearing on June 26. The High Court asked the deputy chief minister to present himself in person or file an affidavit through his advocate.
In the meantime, the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) entered the scene to try and reap political dividend in Penumur, a mandal in Chandrababu Naidu’s native district.
His son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh tweeted on the plight and the fight of the Dalit doctor and it went viral as it came close on the heels of the arrest of another Dalit doctor, Sudhakar in Vizag.
TDP accused the YSRC of Dalit intolerance and alleged that the ruling party was branding its critics as mentally ill.
This is the backdrop against which chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy ordered a CB-CID inquiry into Dr Anita Rani’s episode.
Chittoor district, which shares a border with Tamil Nadu, is notorious for illegal abortions.
In 2018, the sensational arrest of Dr Selvamba Rajkumar, a Salem based gynaecologist, in a botched abortion case by Tamil Nadu police, led to the unearthing of a high profile nursing home in Chittoor as the hub of illegal abortions.
In December 2019, a woman who underwent an illegal abortion near Chittoor was saved with great difficulty by a team of doctors at SVRR Government Hospital, Tirupati. Police arrested the quack Akhilandeswari who performed the abortion sometime later. These incidents point to the thriving trade of illegal abortions in the Chittoor district.
According to Dr Anita Rani, Perumur PHC was the centre for abortions until she took charge. “The long-standing staff, with blessings of the ruling party, promoted illegal abortions unfettered as the private hospitals of late withdrew. Since female foeticide is a crime, I have started monitoring the activities in the hospital,” she said.
How Penumur Became The Centre?
Dr BN Sudhakar Reddy, a psychologist cum social activist from Penumur, said that the village PHC is preferred for abortions because of its remote location.
“The village is not very well connected to Chittoor town. Since it is relatively interior, the hospital activities always went unnoticed. Those women who want to terminate pregnancies as they don’t want female babies, visit Penumur PHC. I have full knowledge of what is happening here. The booty is shared from top to bottom in the department. Not less than 10,000 illegal abortions might have been performed in Penumur by the staff since abortions (female foeticide) were banned. This needs a thorough inquiry by a neutral agency,” Dr Reddy told The Lede.
Each abortion costs between Rs 12,000 and Rs 30,000, he said, adding illegal abortions were the major source of income for some gynaecologists in the towns.
“Peoples’ preference for a male child lead them to terminate female foetuses. Some PHC staff and ANMs guide the women who don’t want a second female birth to scanning centres who determine the sex illegally. The Penumur PHC staff used to conduct abortion at night after nine. One can notice abnormal abortions between the first female child and next male child if one checks the medical reports,” Dr Anita Rani told The Lede.
Her determination to curb these activities and the insistence on regular attendance with night duty derailed the racket, forcing the staff to pull political strings.
The first to react was the District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO) who offered a poor defence. He told mediapersons that Dr Anita Rani was mentally unsound and that she had a history of controversies wherever she worked earlier. According to the DMHO, she had never spent money allocated for the development of the hospital. The Lede’s own attempts to reach the DMHO failed. He did not respond to our request for comments.
But Andhra Pradesh’s CPI secretary dismissed these charges as “utter falsehood”. Talking to The Lede, Ramakrishna said he had known Dr Anita Rani since she worked in Alur of Kurnool district. She was known as a committed and honest doctor. He said that the YSRC took umbrage at her as she questioned corrupt practices going on in the PHC with the support of ruling party leaders.
“How could the YSRC leaders detain the doctor in a hospital room and take pictures when she was in the washroom? The government should bring all these leaders to book in order to make hospitals safe places to work for lady doctors especially from the Dalit communities,” Ramakrishna said.
This saga is not likely to end anytime soon as the swords are drawn on both sides. Chief minister Jagan’s response and follow up action will determine his commitment to fighting corruption as well as upholding the rights of the marginalised.