Death is dramatic. Debt is not.  Millions of Indians live more in fear of  debt  than death. The dead are free. But those who are   in debt  because  they, or  their family members, have fallen ill  are tethered  to a life which can make make death seem the more attractive option.

Most people in this  country are not covered by  health insurance. They have to pay their way  out of disease and disability.

Copied below is a link to a report I did for the WHO recently. It tells  the tale  of Parameshwari Arun , a young mother who lives in fear of not being able to pay back the debt she incurred when her son needed hospitalization following an untreated wound in the leg.  Parameshwari’s mother, Kaliamma, is my part-time  domestic  helper. I saw  Parameshwari as a gawky teenager in a pony-tail. She often dropped by our home . Then one fine day,  her mother  invited me to her wedding and within a year and half,  she had become a mother. I dropped by her home last month to see her son, a little boy, who has been tossed around from hospital to hospital, for no fault of his. He complained of a pain in his leg. The local doctor Parameshwari and her husband consulted could not diagnose the problem, leading to a  nightmarish trail of events. The family is in deep debt, having paid through their nose for various diagnostic tests, medicines, and surgeries. Parameshwari’s fault: she is poor and powerless.

There are government initiatives which seek to improve the lives of people like Parameshwari but the information about the opportunities do not always reach those who need them the most in time.

But as in everything in India, a sliver of hope struggles to break free from the morass of dark, dank despair.   Read the story of  shack-dweller Sunita Gupta.


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