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Blood Thirsty

Blood Thirsty

Kept in a slum, fed twice a day, and their blood extracted thrice a week — in Gorakhpur, scores of unsuspecting men succumb to a network of modern-day vampires. NEHA DIXIT reports 

IT HAD BEEN a bad spell for Madhubani painter Hari Kamat, and it was about to get worse. Having had almost no sales for a year, he left his village in Bihar to look for a job and ended up in Gorakhpur, 200 km from Lucknow. He was offered a job as soon as he stepped down from the bus. Two months later, he was fired for no apparent reason. Local “friends” told him they would get him another and better job — all he had to do was go for a blood test. When the results returned, he was told the quality of his blood was so good he needn’t look for regular employment, but could make a living selling his blood, earning somewhere between Rs 500-1000 per unit.

Hari had no way of knowing he was about to fall victim to a well-organised blood trade centred around Gorakhpur’s numerous private hospitals and clinics. A short while later, he was to find himself along with 16 others — 25- to 40-year-old men from across north India — imprisoned in a slum in Shahpur, two km from the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College. For two-and-a-half years, the men were kept there, fed twice a day, and made to give blood thrice a week. Protest was impossible — the constant depletion of their blood had made them too weak.

The racket was exposed on April 16, when the police raided a house in Chorpuwa slum where one of the victims had been severely thrashed for trying to escape. “It was like a dairy where cows and buffaloes are milked twice a day in return for fodder,” says Gorakhpur Cantonment Circle Officer Viswajeet Srivastava, who is in charge of the case. “The victims told us they had voluntarily sold their blood in the beginning, but later they had been confined and their blood forcibly extracted. They also said that instead of the Rs 500 per day they had been promised, they were paid only Rs 150.”

Ten people involved in the racket have been arrested so far, including Pappu Yadav, in whose house the victims were kept. Jayant Sarkar, who did all the networking with the clinics and the nursing homes, is still absconding.

“All the victims had haemoglobin levels less than 4g/dl as against the 15g/dl found in a normal adult male,” says Dr Suresh Mishra of the Civil Hospital where the rescued were admitted. Among them was Durga Prasad who weighed only 21 kilos when he was found. Raju Mohanti, whose blood group is the rare A negative, says his blood was extracted 16 times a month. According to Red Cross norms, an adult can donate blood not more than once in two months. Ramu Sahu, a graduate from Patna University was told he would be paid Rs 200 a day. Like Rustam Khan, who wanted to raise money for his daughter’s wedding, he now knows only too well the depth of how he was duped.

A couple of lab assistants trained in blood transfusion, lower-level hospital staff, touts and local goons comprised this gang that made its living selling the blood of its unemployed and/or illiterate victims. They tracked migrant labourers and job aspirants at the railway and bus stations, and got them temporary jobs to make their goodwill seem genuine. After a month or two, they would get them fired and lure them into selling their blood. Meanwhile, a web of touts around the city’s major hospitals, including the BRD Medical College, Star Nursing Home, Civil Hospital and Anandlok hospital, kept track of patients in dire need of blood.
According to Srivastava, “After a sale, the touts would direct the relatives to take the blood to Mahanagar Diagnostic Centre. There the blood received a stamp, legalising the illegal practice, something the patients’ attendants fail to notice in their hurry to obtain the blood.”

TEHELKA went undercover to Gorakhpur, with its correspondent posing as the relative of a patient who had met with a grave accident. Speaking to a guard at the BRD Medical College, we were told we could buy blood outside Star Nursing Home. When we claimed our inability to do so, he agreed to arrange a unit of blood for Rs 1,200 “on humanitarian grounds”, as opposed to the Rs 96 that is the government rate.

THE GUARD later took us to a middle-aged tout, who called up a person he addressed as Master, apparently a known name in the circle (see box for transcript). We were able to contact Master later, and got to know that he was an ambulance driver. He told us that all four of his “boys” were underground that day because the health minister was visiting the city, but that he would be able to sell us a unit the next morning.
When we asked Dr Lalit Mohan, the principal of BRD Medical College, the reason why the blood trade flourishes so unabashedly on his campus, he refused any responsibility. “My job is to take action on a complaint, and I haven’t received any. I have thousands of things to do. I have managed to ban paan and bidis in the hospital, what more can I do?”

According to the World Health Organisation, the blood requirement in any area is at least one percent of the total population. Every year, 6.1 million units of blood are collected in India as against the actual requirement of 8.5 million units. In Gorakhpur, with just seven blood banks for a city of three million, the shortage of blood is inevitable. This is exacerbated by Gorakhpur’s unusual proliferation of private hospitals, attributed to its proximity to Bihar and Nepal, both of which have dismal medical facilities. With patients flocking here from across the region, the blood requirement increases astronomically, making Gorakhpur the hub of the illegal blood trade in the country. Further, the growth of private medical facilities here has been completely unaccounted for.

Says Dr RP Verma, Gorakhpur’s chief medical officer, “In 2004, a government circular was issued requiring all hospitals and nursing homes to get registered. Their owners, however, protested, saying they were already registered under the Indian Medical Association. After a stay order, all registrations have literally stopped, leaving the administration without any exact figures of the number of private nursing homes in the city.” Hence, no daily records of transfusions are maintained, and there is no scope for a government audit since the records maintained by the blood banks are independent of any scrutiny.

With a highly decentralised blood transfusion service in India, stand-alone private blood banks are proliferating in the country. While Hari Kamat and his fellow captives have returned to their homes, thousands remain whose fate at the hands of India’s medical vampires will never be known.

‘To buy the blood, you’ll have to pay Rs 1,000 to 1,200’
Lower rung staff of both government and private hospitals play a key part in the thriving blood trade
Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur.
Spycam grabs Tout and the guard
Tehelka: We need a bottle of blood.
Guard: You can get it outside Star Nursing Home in Gorakhpur. You’ll get it when you give blood to them in return.
Tehelka: What if we can’t give the blood?
Guard: Then you won’t get it.
Tehelka: Please help us, it’s very important.
Guard: Let me find out. It is difficult.
Tehelka: We need it urgently.
Guard: Who needs it?
Tehelka: My brother.
Guard: Where is he?
Tehelka: In the hospital. He had an accident.
Guard: Which hospital?
Tehelka: Anand Hospital
Guard: In Gorakhnath? Then you can get the blood outside Star Nursing Home. You’ll get it for a thousand rupees… on humanitarian grounds.
Tehelka: Please tell us some place here where we can get it soon. We don’t have much time.
Guard: What did the doctor there say?
Tehelka: That we can get blood in Medical College here.
Guard: How will you get it here? Yesterday, a patient wanted it here. So four people were called in the night. Only then could he get five bottles. If the doctor would have done it, he would have been fired. Didn’t you ask the doctors?
Tehelka: The doctors get angry.
Guard: You can get it outside Star Nursing Home but you will
have to buy it.
Tehelka: I can buy but I need it urgently.
Guard: You stay here, let me talk (Goes inside a ward and calls another man, a tout.)
Guard: She needs blood.
Tout: You can’t get it like this. You must be knowing these days…
Tehelka: It is very important.
Tout: You’ll have to spend money.
Tehelka: I will pay.
Tout: You will get it then.
Tehelka: I need it now.
Tout: You will get it if the place is open.
Guard: See, you will get it. We people are not like that. You will have to spend money. Lots of money.
Tehelka: How much?
Tout: At least Rs 1,000-1,200. Do you have a mobile? (Takes our cellphone and dials a number)
Tout: Hello, I want to speak to Master. I am calling from Medical. Hello… Is that Master bhaiyya? Please wake him up… Hello bhaiyya, Ram-Ram. There is a requirement here of blood, what to do? Hey, how many bottles do you need?
Tehelka: One.
Tout: One unit…yes. There is somebody here in dire need. A girl has come. Her brother needs it… You will get the money… I will not bring her along. I will come alone. In the meantime, you catch hold of somebody… Bring that boy, he owes me Rs 700. I usually take Rs 400… The blood is needed right now… The rest can be managed — bottle (alcohol) and the fare. The other calculations can be done later but please catch hold of one of the boys… He’s not here today?… They’ve gone to the fair? Aren’t they available today?… When will the blood be available then? Around 10 or 11? Okay, then I will call you around 10-11.
Tehelka: Where will we get it? Can we go there?
Tout: You won’t be able to get it today. The boys who give it have gone to the fair.
Tehelka: Talk to somebody else.
Tout: We just have these three four guys, and they’ve gone to the fair… If you are ready to give blood in exchange, you can get a bottle for just Rs 70.
Tehelka: I can’t give any blood.
Tout: If you want to buy it you will have to pay Rs 1,000-1,200. Once I arranged a deal for Rs 1,800… I have spoken to Master. He will get back to me.
Tehelka: But I need it today.
Tout: How can that be? The boys are not here today. They are the eating-drinking types — once they travel to the city, they don’t do any other work. This is their only occupation.
Tehelka: Can’t you get it for us today?
Tout: Not today.
Tehelka: Give us his number.
Tout: His number is there in your cellphone.
(The next day, Master kept calling, offering to sell the blood)

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 24, Dated June 21, 2008

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