CAA : As A Doctor, I Feel The Medical Fraternity Can’t Remain Apolitical

A few months back, in June 2019, we saw protests by doctors regarding the lack of safety at work, complaining about violence against doctors, and the lack of administrative support and political resolve to prevent this and deal with this.

KOLKATA, INDIA – JUNE 12: Junior doctors from NRS Medical College and Hospital continue the strike which caused the Out Patient Department (OPD) to close, and partially interrupted the emergency services inside the hospital campus, on June 12, 2019 in Kolkata, India. Protests erupted at the state-run NRS Hospital on Tuesday morning bringing the regular services to a standstill, after a junior doctor was allegedly beaten up by the relatives of a 75-year-old patient who died there late on Monday night.(Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

It started at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College, Kolkata and soon spread all over the country. In all this, we noted that as doctors struck work, closing down OPDs and all non-essential services other than ICU and Emergency, the general public did not sympathize much with the doctors.

They (doctors) did not find much support from the other quarters of the society, they did not find allies.

While we doctors may complain that in our fight for just causes, we do not find allies, we must introspect and check how many times have we stood up for the rights of others, protested against their exploitation and harassment, against bad laws and breaking of laws, for the most vulnerable and marginalised population.

Most of the time, we have shown apathy towards these issues. Then, how can we expect the support of others?

The CAA Debate

As the entire country is involved in the discussion on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), most doctors have seemingly shown no interest in it. The WhatsApp groups of doctors are a microcosm of our society and reflect our ideas and actions.

In many WhatsApp groups, the admins have decided to keep the discussion apolitical and censored any discussion on issues like these. In such groups, it is business as usual, as if nothing is happening outside. It is like an ‘ostrich-burying-their-head’ approach.

In some groups, doctors are fiercely divided, with some vehemently supporting the CAA, and some opposing it tooth-and-nail. In these discussions, one can notice how our views are influenced by what we see and read on social media, and how we are ready to come to conclusions without any in-depth studies.  You will also notice how there are some doctors who hold extreme views and are right-leaning. It should not be surprising; this is the norm.

Doctors protesting against Citizenship Amendment Act near Jamia Milia Islamia

Nazi Medicine

History has sufficient evidence to show that this what happens when fascism spreads its wings. Even the intelligentsia get brainwashed. This happened in the times of Hitler, and other fascists, and this is happening now in India. If you were to search Google, you will get overwhelming results on how the German doctors took membership of the Nazi Party in large numbers.

You will read how the German doctors were enthusiastically complicit in Hitler’s holocaust of the Jews. You will be able to read how they forgot the Hippocratic Oath and medical ethics, conveniently, and took part in executions, experimentation, and Nazi medicine, and even supported the killing of fellow Jewish doctors.

As we fear the entry of fascism in India, we should wonder if some of us are on a path to repeating what these German doctors did. In all professions, we have some rotten eggs, don’t we? But we must always learn from our past mistakes.

I am quoting two examples of how doctors are complicit in the miscarriage of justice. In the recently concluded case of Kuldeep Singh Sengar who was convicted in the gang rape, and attempt to murder of a minor girl. The CBI charge-sheet mentions how doctors were hand-in-glove with police, gave false evidence to cover up the act, and tried to protect the rapist.

Doctors giving fake certificates is not new, but we must not forget how it can have consequences. Pragya Thakur, the MP from Bhopal, who is a terror-accused is out on bail on supposedly medical reasons.

We Kept Quiet

We, the doctors, are trained right from the start to mind our own businesses and stay away from the murky field of politics. No doubt, in many medical colleges, there are not even student unions. As doctors, our apathy to social issues in the recent past is telling.

When the government used inhuman methods, like pellet guns, on children, blinding some of them, we, doctors, ignored it. In the recent crackdown in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370, the patients suffered, we doctors kept quiet.

The Government passed the very regressive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, for which the community is fighting tooth and nail, we doctors kept quiet, although it was an act which dealt with medical aspects. The government brought GST rules, which were unfair to the medical system, we kept quiet.

We are so used to keeping quiet, that we have forgotten that we have a voice and it is our moral duty to raise our voice. No doubt then that the government has probably silently scrapped the bill that was to help curtail the violence against doctors, and we did not even notice it.

Have you noticed how the government sidelined the doctors conveniently in the National Medical Commission? Well, we had been too subdued to even notice that. We have all heard the famous quote which states that silence in the face of injustice is betrayal and that it supports the oppressor. Alas! They don’t teach this in medical schools.

Should Doctors Be Apolitical?

There is an unsaid rule that doctors should be apolitical, but I completely disagree. Our country is governed by a participative democracy. All doctors are adults and have a political duty to vote and take part in the representative democracy. And, to fulfill this obligation, they need to keep themselves abreast of the socio-political issues, debate and discuss them. One can be a doctor and a politically aware person simultaneously.

We should not forget that the BC Roy award which is given for exemplary work in the field of medicine is named after a doctor-politician, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, who was a physician par-excellence, and also a politician with the Congress. He was West Bengal’s Chief Minister and the National Doctor’s Day on 1st July is celebrated in his memory.  Not many people may know that Dr. Jivraj Mehta, the founder of Seth GS Medical College in Mumbai, and who helped found many other institutes later, was also a politician, and served as Gujarat’s first Chief Minister.

In the recent Anti-CAA protests, a video, showing how the Mangalore Police entered forcibly an ICU and tried to break the door, went viral. This led to a statement issued by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) that sought to declare and respect hospitals as ‘safe zones‘ and allow the injured persons access to treatment.

Aftermath of protests in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj and Delhi gate. Image credit: Facebook/Natasha Badhwar

In Delhi, the police picked up injured students of Jamia Milia Islamia University from the Holy Family Hospital and took them to the Kalkaji Police Station. We also saw how, at Daryaganj Police station, the police detained injured persons and denied any medical help. The team of volunteer doctors from AIIMS was allowed entry only after several hours. There were eight minors amongst them.

We saw how, during lathi-charge by the police, one Jamia student lost his eye, while another student at Aligarh Muslim University had to have his hand amputated. We all kept silent.

Can We Afford To Remain Silent?

But, can we afford to keep silent? If we keep silent as the rights of others are snatched away and their voices muffled, then that day is not far behind when we will have no one to raise voice for us. One cannot say this and not quote the poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller:

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So doctors, become socially aware. If you see injustice around you, raise your voice against it. For, if you do not raise your voice for others now, others won’t be left the next time you are getting beaten up., and must

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