My first association with a big government hospital was when Amma asked me to go meet a doctor. She wanted someone senior to talk to me, so that I will eat my dinner properly. That was my first memory. Big hospital and lots of people. I was excited, running around looking for a specific room and this all seemed like an adventure. I still don’t have any memory of what exactly did my doctor say, but I retained the visuals. They stayed on and that was what government hospitals meant for me, for the longest time.
I grew up among Malayali nurses, and right next to my house there was one of the biggest government hospitals in Delhi. With time, I realised nobody really liked going to a government hospital and it was always crowded, no matter what. If god forbid, we had to meet a doctor, we really had to depend on our Malayali roots; we all knew how much it mattered to have one Malayali nurse aunty, who could get us to the right doctor and will save us the torture of waiting in line. The visuals of lines and crowd stayed on, and memories of government hospitals become more murkier in my mind.
With college, there seemed to be a plethora of hospitals around us. Everyone knew the swankiest private hospitals and everybody seemed to have a medical insurance. Amma again coaxed me into getting a medical insurance and again thought talking to a senior doctor will help, so that I will live my life properly. I had my war against insurance going on, in those years ( it still persists), and I ended up never having a medical insurance. But slowly the narration of government hospitals started disappearing from my family, my aunts were getting transferred to private hospitals. Everyone talked about the private hospitals being the saviour of lives, people even started making separate accounts just for private hospitals, lest one day one might need it.
“We are paying for the convenience”- they said
“ Nature will save me”- I said.
Nature did not save me, and it did not really help that I was a city bred girl who genuinely for the longest time thought milk comes from mother dairy booth. The only hospital I knew was AIIMS, because now I had friends there and that too was a place I never wanted to visit. I no more had any visual memory, I no more had any experience. I was told, government hospitals were crowded and dirty.I believed and continued living in my naturopathy bubble.
When Hidden Pockets started mapping government hospitals, as a researcher it was very difficult to start visiting the government hospitals. All these hearsay, the images I had seen floating in media, and all that reportage, I was not really sure what was I was looking for in these hospitals. The big chunk of my country was using these services, and I was on my journey of finding what was really happening in these hospitals. The aspiration of the burgeoning of middle class and the daily life of lower income group was providing me with enough existential crisis.
Even before accessing the services, I had to wage off another ideological war in my head. Shush all the images of the government hospitals I already had in my mind. I had to give government hospitals another chance. I had to convince myself that government hospitals were just not meant for poor people. My health was not a luxury for which I needed to save, it was my right. My government had to take care of my health too. Too many battles I say.
So I started with my favourite battle:the battle to reclaim beauty narrative, the battle to reclaim all the images I had of government hospitals. I had to go to these hospitals and witness some of these hospitals, sit there, commit to bird watching and look at the bodies that come there.
“Nobody likes a mess” said Aisha, but I was sure, there was something else was happening in our visits to these government hospitals. There were crowds, which I had seen in private hospitals also, but the crowd looked different, the staff felt different, something which reeked of something crude. It did not feel like the parallel city I believed I was living in. Poverty was too stark.
Yes, there are plenty of people who went to government hospitals, it is the only source for solace for poor people and they still believed government will help them. There are huge lines in these places.
One of my biggest shock came, when I realised that OPD fee ranged from Rs 2 to Rs 50. I was used to hearing from Rs 200- Rs 1500. The economic value of my health could be that affordable, was a question that played in my mind for sometime.
With time, our visits became more regular, we have visited government hospitals in various cities of India. Delhi, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cochin, Jaipur, Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad and plenty more cities to visit. With time, we were less and less apprehensive about government hospitals. We started understanding the process of government hospitals and in most of the cases, even liked the facilities provided. Most of these services were pretty good and there were plenty of options within the government services. I did not have to invest all my life savings in a private clinics to get basic services.
The visuals stayed and the crowd persisted. But with time, I started getting used to the images and realised maybe I had been living in a sanitized version where people of certain groups were not to be interacted. Most of the places were clean, they were not as swanky and clean as a private hospital, but they were clean.
At Hidden Pockets, we are trying to make the process of accessing Sexual and Reproductive health services easier; by finding the exact building where services can be located, by finding out the kind of services availability and by checking if the service providers are friendly. We have even surveyed the places for cleanliness and access with public transportation. The Vision behind this mapping venture was to make the experience as comfortable as possible.