April 24, 2021 12:56:17 am
For decades, Ambarish Rai (61) fought for increased government presence in sectors of education and health. On Friday morning, he died with Covid-like symptoms at Dr BR Ambedkar Hospital in South Delhi after being driven around in an ambulance for five hours, hoping to get a bed with oxygen support.
Mitra Ranjan, colleague and long-time friend, said it was finally the systems that he fought to improve for decades that let down the social activist, who dedicated the past 11 years of his life to the cause of primary education and the Right to Education Act.
While he was not diagnosed with Covid as he had not managed to get his reports, he had complained of fever on April 14, which progressed to congestion on April 17.
“He was admitted at PT Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital on Tuesday and was feeling better on Wednesday. On Thursday evening, we were told by hospital authorities that there was damage to his lungs and that we should shift him to a Covid facility. Between 2 am and 7 am, he was driven around in an ambulance with oxygen support but there were no leads on where he could find a bed. We made calls to MPs as well and some of them tried to intervene. Finally, he reached Ambedkar Hospital at around 7 in the morning. Since he did not have a Covid positive report, there were delays in getting him admitted. The irony was that he was asked to leave one hospital because he had Covid-like symptoms, while the other hospital was hesitant to admit him because he did not have a positive report. Finally, around 7.30 am, he was taken to the emergency at Ambedkar Hospital where he was given oxygen, but he couldn’t survive,” said Ranjan.
Rai was born in Mau, Uttar Pradesh and studied at Lucknow University. He was active in student politics and had been working on issues of democratic and human rights since.
Rai’s wife Urmila was in Delhi with him, while his son Anand is in the US for higher studies. He could not come back for the funeral, which took place on Friday evening at the Lodhi Crematorium. According to Ranjan, he got his first vaccine dose on April 4.
For hours, family and friends tried to get him a bed but helplines, they say, remained jammed with barely any help trickling through.
As an RTE activist, Rai was a firm believer in the no detention policy, refusing to blame children for the failures of a schooling system that many a time refused to fulfil basic requirements such as books and teachers. Over and over again, he asked that governments be held accountable for failing children, inside classrooms and outside.
At a time when the government is pushing for increased testing, learning outcomes, and more private participation, Rai continued to ask for more public funding and participation, especially for marginalised children and their families.
On his Linkedin page, Rai described the work they did as the RTE Forum thus, “The forum envisions to bring systemic reform in the Indian education system to establish a public provisioning for equitable and quality education for all children. We understand that education as a tool for social transformation can build an egalitarian society by promoting perspective of human rights, values, sense of equity and diversity, strategic intervention to ensure the peaceful co-existence.”
The struggle for Rai’s family did not end at Ambedkar Hospital. Leaving the cremation ground in the evening, Ranjan bemoaned the systems bursting at the seams.
“Ambarish ji fought for well-functioning public systems all his life. But even after his death, we faced struggles at every step. Even getting wood for his cremation turned out to be a challenge. His son in the US couldn’t be here for the cremation,” Ranjan said.
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