Friday, May 14, 2010

Gates pops caste question; Billionaire do-gooder stuns Bihar officials

Pics: Deepak Kumar


Gularia (Bihar), May 12: If some are still wondering why the census cannot blank out caste, their answer came bobbing in a country boat today.

Bill Gates, who usually crosses continents on his $45-million private jet, took the boat that shuddered in the swift waters of the Kosi to reach a remote Bihar village that had hardly ever seen a district official.

One of his first questions was if caste divisions in the country’s backward hinterland were coming in the way of healthcare.

“What about caste? Is it not possible that people from influential castes might be confining (polio) immunisation and vaccines among children and mothers of their own caste groups?” the Microsoft founder asked the officials accompanying him to Gularia, where the rat-eating Musahars were waiting for the master of the “mouse”.

As the stunned officials racked their brains for an answer, principal secretary, health, C.K. Mishra saved the situation. “It is not a factor,” the IAS officer said. “The immunisation and vaccination drives are carried out for all.”

While the query came at a time the Centre is thinking of including caste in the census for the first time in 80 years, the prompt reply may have masked a grimmer picture — if not because of caste then because of the Kosi river.

Officials had failed to carry out immunisation in villages that had been flooded by the Kosi in 2008-09, and health agencies had detected as many as 38 cases of P-1 bacteria — the deadliest among polio bacteria.

The philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted impoverished Gularia in Khagaria district, got off a helicopter in a maize field and boarded the boat, accompanied by the district magistrate, Unicef and WHO officials, and volunteers.

Gates landed near the river before taking the boat to the village, which is virtually cut off from the rest of the world and has no proper drinking water facilities, electricity, roads and schools.

More than 80 per cent of the people here are illiterate, though the village has a temple to Saraswati. The goddess of learning is Gularia’s most prominent deity.

The temple, however, escaped Gates’s attention.

The foundation, which focuses on health and learning, had chosen the village based on feedback from the organisation’s India CEO Ashok Alexander, principal health secretary Mishra and Unicef.

Officials said the Foundation would study “on-the-spot observations of Bill Gates” and engage more NGOs to speed up healthcare for mothers and children in the village before taking up other backward villages across the country.

So what brought Gates here in this 43-degree heat?

“The beauty of the land and the serenity of the rivers,” he told The Telegraph. “It is a wonderful feeling. I feel very good. You can notice it.”

Gates reached the village around 9.30 in the morning and stayed over three hours. He had sand on his shirt and trousers but he visited nearly every one of the 200 huts in the village of 700, most of them Musahars.

“Gates sahib ne hamare gaon ko god liya hai, iska matlab hai ki is gaon ke garib ab amir ho jaingein or yahan road, pool aur school banjayega (Gates has adopted our village. It means the poor villagers will become rich and the village will have a road, bridge and a school,” said Ghurni Devi, 45, a mother of five, as her husband Shibu Sada stood beside her.

Gates mingled with the villagers and talked to them as the officials and the volunteers accompanying him briefed the 54-year-old philanthropist how they had been carrying out the immunisation drive, travelling on bikes.

It prompted the caste query (Courtesy The Telegraph)


  1. A piece with perspective. Brings out the real India through an experience with greatest IT capitalist of the world. Good Show , Nalin..

  2. Thanks a lot Venkitesh. I have very high value for your comments. Regds, Nalin


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