Dr M.R. Rajagopal, Chairman of Pallium India and tireless champion of the rights of palliative care patients in India, has been awarded Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
Dr Rajagopal received this award in recognition of more than 20 years spent fighting conditions that cause patients to suffer severe pain unnecessarily. Human Rights Watch has honoured Dr Rajagopal “for his efforts to defend the right of patients with severe pain to live and die with dignity”.
He said about receiving this high honour: “I thank Human Rights Watch for this great recognition and for giving visibility to the notion that denial of access to pain relief and palliative care is a violation of human rights, especially when simple inexpensive solutions are possible and feasible. We cannot call ourselves a cultured society if our callousness, ignorance and bureaucratic tangles inflict excruciating suffering on our fellow human beings. This award will help to bring public attention to the injustice that is being meted out to our fellow citizens and to the solutions that are being worked out and demonstrated in many parts of the developing world.”
Talking about the highs and lows of his two decades in palliative care, Dr Rajagopal said, “I think the most satisfying moment in these 20 years was around 5.30 p.m. on February 21, 2014, when the Rajya Sabha passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Amendment Bill as the last item of that session of the Parliament. This had followed three successive sessions of the Parliament practically becoming defunct and this was turning out to be almost impossible.”
Any disappointments? “The most disappointing part is that even today, only a tiny minority get palliative care,” Dr Rajagopal said. “All our work is going to be meaningless unless we can translate the current achievements to action, which will improve pain relief to the needy. Despite overcoming the legal tangles, further progress is indeed going to be slow, and we’ll need considerable efforts by the palliative care community.”
The award has come close on the heels of Dr Rajagopal’s appointment as a visiting professor at Sichuan University in China. Chengdu (capital city of Sichuan province) “reaches out into the community and maybe we can use Pallium India’s experience in Kerala and work together to expand that kind of outreach,” Dr Rajagopal added.
The award is named for Dr Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009. Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on Rwanda, the 1994 genocide, and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch annual award honours her outstanding commitment to, and defence of, human rights. It celebrates the valour of people who put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination, and oppression.
“The Alison Des Forges Award honors people of extraordinary compassion and courage who work on behalf of some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The award winners have spoken out and intervened in the face of opposition, indifference, and at times life-threatening danger.”