In the film ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, Audrey Tautou – playing a desperate Turkish immigrant in London – almost loses her kidney in exchange for a British passport. At the last moment though, she manages to escape the horrific operation that was to be performed in a seedy London hotel.
Many of India’s poor, however, have not been as lucky. A kidney scam, that shocked the country last month, has revealed that hundreds of poor, mostly laborers, have lost their organs, either willingly, for money, or unwillingly, by being duped and forced by a doctor and his accomplices.
Organ trade is not new, having been in the news before; the fact that there thrives a big black market worth millions of dollars, is no secret. It was something that gained momentum in India in the 1970’s, after drugs that controlled the body’s rejection of foreign objects were developed. Many of India’s poor were (and still are) willing to trade their organs for money, and so started an international racket where patients from richer countries, who could found few donors in their own backyard, were supplied with organs from third world nations like India.
So the question is, why were Indians so shocked when this case came to light?
Maybe because this time it’s been happening in North India’s IT city of Gurgaon – a rich Delhi suburb, home to million-dollar penthouses and multinational companies like Microsoft. And India, with its arrival, so to speak, on the global stage, is more conscious of its image and reacts strongly to such incidents.
Dr. Amit Kumar, the main accused, was found to be running an illegal clinic in an elite part of the suburb, where about five hundred unfortunate, poverty-ridden laborers were undergoing operations and having their kidneys removed, most against their will. These were then sold to rich Indians or foreigners.
This illegal trade proved very lucrative for Dr. Kumar, whose wife and children live in Canada, as reported by the Toronto Star, in a large house in suburban Brampton, near Toronto – he is said to have bought the house last year for $610,000, and when he visits, he drives a leased $65,000 Lexus 350 SUV.
The police raided his Gurgaon clinic on January 24th, but Dr. Kumar – now being called Dr. Horror – had been tipped off and had fled; he apparently kept the political and law enforcement machinery well oiled with bribes, and thus, didn’t think he could be detained. This incident, however, became something of a national shame and the media covered it actively. After a massive international manhunt he was found in the bordering country of Nepal, and has now been deported to India. What happens now, remains to be seen. The Indian court system is notoriously slow.
Still, this case brings up many disturbing issues. One, of course, is of the long-suspected and despicable nexus of corruption and bribes between the police, politicians and illegal organ traders like Kumar whose history speaks volumes about the ease with which India’s wealthy citizens bribe their way out of trouble. It’s clear, looking at Kumar’s history, that a multi-million dollar racket such as this one could not have operated without the tacit consent of the authorities. And that is what is deplorable as well as worrying.
Kumar was first arrested way back in 1994 when he was suspected of running similar illegal trades in Mumbai – India’s financial capital. And he’s had many brushes with the law in the 14 years since. In 2000 another one of his clinics was raided, but not much came of that either. At one point, Kumar even changed his name, and set up clinics in different parts of the country. The latest ones, which finally led to his spectacular arrest in Nepal, were tucked away in private apartments in up market areas of Gurgaon.
Truth is stranger, or in as in this case, grislier than fiction. Dirty Pretty Things was a disturbing movie but what happened in Gurgaon, right next to the country’s capital, was far more gruesome and horrific. And it once again brings back the quandary that continues to stare India in the face: the stark social dichotomies and the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor.
In the same city, on the one hand you have plush villas that you can’t buy for the love of money – all sold out at a million dollars – and on the other, you have wretchedly poor laborers pawning their organs to feed their children.
India desperately needs to correct this imbalance, because such inequalities can only lead to a dangerous society, which India runs the risk of turning into, now more than ever.