From violence to care
There is an urgent need to divert fund from armament to focus on the alleviation of public healthcare in our country
Saddened and disturbed on hearing about the devastation caused by the atom bombs thrown on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi had said "I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science. What is the antidote? Has it antiquated non-violence? No. On the contrary, non-violence is the only thing that is now left in the field. It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, 'unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind'."
It is an irony that instead of learning a lesson from the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to press for abandoning the nuclear weapons programmes globally, it continued unabated and reached its peak during the cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1980s. There were times when nuclear exchanges appeared imminent and the fear of the world coming to an end loomed large. Huge sums have been spent since then on the nuclear weapons programme, which could have been otherwise spent for the betterment of the health of the people across the globe.
As per the latest report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the annual global defence expenditure is US$ 1699 billion (2.2 per cent of the global GDP). The US tops defence spending at $611 billion. China's defence expenditure is $215 billion, while India is the fifth largest military spender with an outlay of $55.9 billion (Rs 3,63,350 crore). India's defence expenditure is 1.62 per cent of its GDP, while its central government's health budget is 0.26 of the GDP, which is six times less than its military budget. Pakistan's spending on arms is equivalent to its budgetary allocation of $8.9 billion. With Pakistan being a $300 billion economy, its defence expenditure comes to 2.9 per cent of the GDP. India ranks number one in arms import with 12 per cent of the total global arms business.
With continuing conflicts in various corners of the world, the danger of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out at any flashpoint. There is sufficient scientific evidence to prove that in the event of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan using about 100 nuclear weapons, over two billion people could be out at a risk of starvation as a result of climatic consequences. And, such a war between the US and Russia with thousands of nuclear weapons could mark the end of modern civilisation.
But there is a strong and powerful hope. The UN General Assembly passed a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons (TPNW) on July 7, 2017, with 122 votes in favour and only one vote against. This happened despite tremendous pressure on these countries by the big nuclear power states. This indeed is a big achievement for the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons (ICAN) which had worked ambitiously to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and convince the global community of the catastrophic threat for something which they are not responsible for.
It is in this context that it was decided that mass campaigns would be organised in the nuclear weapon-possessing countries to convince them to join the treaty. An international seminar held in Delhi on March 24-25, is an important and relevant step in that direction.
The campaigners had planned a dialogue with decision makers and sought an appointment with the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister and the External Affairs Minister of India over six months back. But, ironically, none of the ministries responded. The only response came from the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Maj. Gen. (Retd) BC Khanduri. In a telephonic talk on the appointment, he confirmed the meeting, but just after one hour of this telephonic conversation, he backed out citing health causes.
This apathetic behaviour of the Indian government in refusing to meet the international delegation of doctors representing a prestigious Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation is against the very basic values of our country, which holds guests in high esteem – Atithi Devo Bhava. It is not clear why the government is so afraid of the disarmament movement. The government should be ready to engage in a dialogue, not run away from it. The Indian government should not only be a part of the larger objective of nuclear disarmament but also convince others to follow.
The diversion of funds from the arms race to the healthcare system in our country is the need of the hour. Healthcare in our country has never been in as much crisis as it is today. This is despite the fact that our country has progressed in all fields since Independence and we aspire to become among the top economies in the global arena. To strengthen our healthcare system we have built many advanced tertiary care centres, which offer world-class high-tech care. These hospitals also attract many patients from outside India for cost-effective treatment and have become a source of medical tourism earning foreign currency to our country. But, in the process, we have failed to realise that only a little percentage of our population can afford such healthcare. They will remain devoid of modern healthcare facilities unless the government strengthens its public healthcare delivery system with more spending on health. But, our public spending on health in the state sector has been abysmally low. There is, thus, an urgent need to divest funds from the arms race to health, education and development. Disarmament is the key, nuclear disarmament more so.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is senior vice President Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views are strictly personal)