Gas Chambers for Infants


Half a century ago, Hitler profited from the extermination of millions of Jews, harvesting gold teeth and jewelry from specially designed gas chambers.

In our times, a new breed profits from high tech gas chambers for infants. Ahmedabad, for instance, now abounds with neo-natal facilities, sporting state-of-art technology to dazzle the uninitiated; traumatized families who take recourse to their facilities remain totally unaware that many neo-natal hospitals are a money-spinning hocus-pocus; there is often no back-up medical expertise, no pathology, radiology or surgery facilities, or even a simple generator to maintain power to sensitive life-sustaining apparatus.

What is available, offers a macabre solace: a prolonged painless (?) Death for the infant, protracted trauma for the helpless families who leave weighed down by the pitifully weightless bundle in the arms and a big hole in the pocket.

The doctor laughs all the way to the bank. For what does he actually spend on? Private hospitals are chronically short-staffed; piles of household and medical garbage accumulate at their gates. Supplies virtually gratis courtesy an army of medical reps. Back-up electric power for state-of-art technology NIL. Neo-natal gas chambers for infants are no exceptions.

In the new millennium "state of art" technology, childbirth is no longer accompanied by happy gurgling and frenzied wailing of hungry babies to be soothed by a mother's gentle touch.

New era babies leave the security of the womb to enter neo-natal nurseries, clogged with heaters, ventilators, tube lights, ultra violet equipment, injections, drips, domes and cardiac monitors.

Rough hands, callused by constant nursing chores, change wads of gauze cotton from under their delicate bottoms; the constant stream of drips and injections ensures that the slightest human touch sparks off a terrible wail, perhaps in unconscious anticipation of yet another prick. Each limb is so swollen, finding a needle-vacant vein is a test of the doctor himself.

Once upon a time, neo-natal care was the exception; now it is almost the rule, as we follow in the footsteps of the U S of A.

It is the old dilemma of the came first the chicken or the egg. Has neo natal care become a virtual must because the facilities have been created, as medical money-spinners, or nouveau riche status symbols? Or did the need spur the creation of the facilities? The debate is wide open.

The acceptability of neo-natal care is stunning; neighbors, who migrated to the city less than a year ago, declare nonchalantly "nana balak ne to peti ma mukai" (little ones have to be put in the BOX). 

Doctor's point triumphantly at declining Infant Mortality Rate (IMR). IMR has no doubt fallen, but in which categories?

Once upon a time, People-like-us rarely had fatalities in newborns. Our mothers did, eight to nine left from a litter of twelve was normal in those by-gone days. For my generation, it was rare to lose a baby or a mother in childbirth.

In those pre-planned babies days, when even vasectomy was looked upon in suspicion, recourse to D&C was nouveau enough to feel terribly brave for a young mother struggling to space out her kids for the mandatory 2 or 3 before putting a full stop. Exceptions like actress Smita Patil shook all of us.

While we never heard of a friend or a relative losing a baby, such occurrences were common enough for servants and their relatives. In fact they happened with sickening regularity.

Ironically, it is these classes who now benefit from the reduced IMR, but they still cannot afford neo-natal care for babies.

The clientele for the fancy, state-of-art clinics come from the well-heeled YUPPIES; it is their babies who are no longer safe. People-like-us now find our children and our grandchildren potential clients for the world of incubators and ventilators: neo-natal facilities, or neo natal gas chambers?

The results of a three-week long vigil at a leading neo-natal facility of Ahmedabad were disturbing: The Doctor's unbeaten record was 'regrets only". I did not see a single infant emerge alive from that neo-natal nursery. No baby left that nursery gurgling in its mother's arms!!

In large public hospitals, there is a well-kept secret charade that is played out whenever a patient dies inopportunely on the operation table:

Doctors' facial muscles relax into smiles when the patient is wheeled out on a gurney with drips in place, to the recovery room or ICU, as the case may be; and after a decent enough interval, doctors and nurses will rush about, as in the case of an emergency and then the final declaration: Sorry.

In the neo-natal hospitals too, such charades are well played out. Of course, in this case, there is no gurney, only ventilators or incubators; a forced relaxation of the grimness on the medicos face until the top doctor is safely off the premises; after a decent enough interval thereafter, another crisis, much running up and down by the residents and nurses to fetch crucial injections and what not. And then, the silence of death.... another baby emerges a weightless dead weight from the neo-natal gas chamber.

Infantile pneumonia and jaundice are among the commonest causes of hospitalization. Doctors are unable to confirm whether the combination is fatal.

Jaundice has always been explained away as a natural process of internal replacement of blood cells, as the newborn's system switches from womb support to auto support. The process took a couple of days to complete it and stabilize the system.

Pneumonia is the government and industry's gift to the newborn generations. Licenses are issued generously in the name of progress, development and liberalization -- with no controls on pollution -- be it industrial or vehicular. Inspections are a joke and effluent treatment non-existent. Millions of Indians succumb to respiratory ailments routinely; why not new born babes, emerging from highly medicated wombs, into a polluted world.

Along with the claims of falling IMR, perhaps prenatal medications and pollution effects also need investigation.

A deplorable sidelight of the entire neo-natal controversy is the striking sex ratios: in three weeks observation at a leading neo-natal facility, I saw only one baby girl brought to the infant ICU; all the rest in the ICU and the neo natal nursery were baby boys.

Was this merely reinforcement of the theory that baby girls are stronger and more resilient than their male siblings?


A pointer to the unwillingness of people to spend large sums of money on neo-natal facilities for girls?


Verification of the proposition that very few baby girls are actually being born at all.

Look around: How many little girls can you count in your immediate circle, versus numbers of little boys. Young masters outnumbering little babes flood nursery schools.

Almost inevitably, the first child of the Young Urban Couple is a boy. " How to cope with two, this one is a handful we can barely cope with, " young mothers argue plaintively.

Abortion may be unfashionable, but it is widespread and discreet, nay furtive. Two child couples are becoming exceptions, more so if the test shows a female fetus. Facilities for tests keep pace with demand. While no respectable couple will admit to an abortion, selective or otherwise, when were the lakhs of aborted female fetuses last counted?

Two decades down the line, what is going to happen to all these grown-up male babies without enough females to go round?



Or Polyandry with the return of the Draupadi syndrome of yore? 


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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