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Disease of Society

It is not just the ailment. The reason for the 20-year-old's plea for mercy killing is his disgust at being ostracised by society.

DEAD END: Pravin (left) and Suresh Bajpai have given up hope for help
Pravin Bajpai has a chronic illness. He has what doctors call a haimogema tumour on the left side of his face which is causing him excruciating pain, blockage of vision and breathing problems. His medical condition is serious enough but the real tragedy involving Pravin is something else, something that has caused him to plead, "Please shoot me to death. Or poison me. I don't want to live anymore." The reason for the 20-year-old's plea for mercy killing is his depression and disgust at being declared untouchable and ostracised by society. Pravin has no friends and he is practically secluded from the outer world. His life is confined to a dark and dingy home in a dilapidated lane in the old city of Kanpur.

Pravin's medical problem is tough to deal with, although not incurable. His father Suresh Bajpai is working for a transport company and earns a meagre sum of Rs 2,000 per month to feed a family of seven. Suresh approached several doctors and politicians to give Pravin the treatment which was too expensive for him. But with no help in sight, the crestfallen father sought permission from President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for mercy killing of his own son."Pravin had a spot on his left cheek at the time of birth. It was a minor problem so I did not take it seriously," recalled Suresh. However, his unending agony began when the spot started spreading across the left side of his face.

Pravin is deprived of primary education as he was denied admission by school authorities for being "defaced". "When Pravin was four-year-old, I took him to Bharti Gyanpeeth School in Kidwai Nagar, which refused him admission on the grounds that other students would get scared," said Suresh, adding, Pravin had no option but to sit at home and watch other boys of his age go to school and play games. If he tried to step out, the neighbours would force him to get back home. The agony, however, did not end there. "I was thrown out of my house by my landlord," said Suresh. What added to the crisis were the rumours that Pravin's was a contiguous disease. For months, the Bajpais had to lead a nomadic life, until one of his friends allowed them to live in an old, abandoned house.

Suresh did everything to give his son adequate treatment. He travelled to Delhi, but the costly treatment forced him to return to Kanpur. He also spoke to several politicians for help. "I met Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli and they promised my son free treatment, although no action was taken thereafter," said Suresh. "The rudest shock, however, came from Uttar Pradesh Home Minister Prakash Jaiswal, who threw me out of his house, alleging that I am making money at the cost of my son," stated an agitated Suresh. So was the response from Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and the district administration in Kanpur. Suresh wrote to several people in the system but no one responded, except for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who assured him of subsidised treatment which cost him nearly Rs 20 lakh. Although Pravin started his treatment in the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in Delhi, it had to be discontinued due to paucity of funds.

The only ray of hope for the Bajpai family came from Kapil Sabbarwal, general secretary of Kanpur Sports Association, who too faced a similar situation when both his parents suffered from cancer. "I know how it feels when someone in the family is seriously ill," said Sabbarwal, who is currently collecting funds from his friends, relatives and customers of his sports shop for Pravin's treatment.

Pravin is otherwise fit, he functions well and is intelligent enough. Senior child expert Dr M.L. Tripathi told india today that Pravin can be treated and can start life afresh. So far, this seems to be a dream, but whether it will take shape is yet to be seen.

-By Subhash Mishra

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