West Bengal has a long and sordid history of violence against doctors and medical practitioners. In the last two years itself, at least five such cases were reported from private and public hospitals.
In 2018, the death of an 82-year-old woman brought an angry mob to the Peerless Hospital in Kolkata, that vandalised the emergency department of the busy medical institute. In 2017, a senior medical practitioner in an upscale private hospital narrowly survived a murderous attack by the family of a patient who had died under his supervision.
Past Instances of Violence Against Doctors in Bengal
The same year, the death of a four-month-old baby, Kuheli Chakraborty, led to public outrage against the Apollo Gleneagles hospital in Kolkata after the family accused the hospital of medical negligence. Soon, a mob of 30 attacked the hospital, shattering glass doors and some equipment. The mother of the deceased child had appealed to the chief minister for intervention. She was confident that Mamata ‘Didi’ would do the needful.
However, it is the public hospitals that have borne the brunt of the most vicious attacks. With threadbare infrastructure support and intense work pressure, junior doctors who often work beyond their limits and duty hours are a vulnerable lot, often struggling to cope with the pressure of saving lives and saving their own.
No one knows this better than the doctors at NRS hospital that is now a battleground between the State and the medical fraternity.
Bengal Govt Approved Taekwondo Sessions For Doctors in 2017
In 2017, junior doctors at NRS went on strike after one of them was attacked by the family of a patient who died. It was not a one off, and incidents of doctors being heckled, manhandled have become commonplace at the hospital that treats a staggering number of patients every day.
Not surprisingly, the hospital was one of the first places to initiate a martial arts training programme for its doctors, in the event of a mob attack following a patient’s death.
The controversial move was endorsed by the State Health Department, and interns at NRS were widely photographed learning how to kick and punch during a Taekwondo session.
The pilot training module had been introduced by NRS’s deputy medical superintendent, Dr Dwaipayan Biswas, who is also a Taekwondo practitioner, in a bid to help junior doctors deal with stressful situations and learn a few self-defence techniques. The programme was then introduced at AIIMS, Delhi.
Is This Just About ‘Vote Bank Politics’?
The recent incident of a mob attacking the hospital and assaulting doctors is not an isolated one. What is different this time however is how the tragedy has been given a communal colour, how it’s been politicised thanks to the current political environment.
Despite a section of the doctors and members of civil society urging people to not give the incident a communal twist, the damage has already been done, courtesy Mukul Roy, the man who has been the ‘monkey’ on Mamata Banerjee’s back ever since he switched over to the BJP and helped engineer its spectacular gains in Bengal.
Mukul Roy was among the first to claim how the culprits were being shielded because of Banerjee’s ‘vote bank’ politics.
The idea caught on as soon as it was seeded. There are multiple signature campaigns doing the rounds on social media, urging people to stand by the doctors who were assaulted, while mentioning ‘vote bank politics’ at least twice in every sentence. A flurry of Facebook posts have appeared in the last 48 hours, talking about how Bengalis now feel unsafe in their own city, because the first thing they are now noticing about any miscreant on the streets is the attire, the headgear, the facial fuzz.
Let’s Look At The ‘Real’ Tragedy
The NRS incident is perhaps not very different from the previous ones where doctors and hospitals have been attacked by mobs claiming to be family members and sympathisers of the bereaved kin. A quick glance at the case histories of mob attacks in Bengal hospitals will tell you that the popular sentiment against doctors has been a negative one. There is a certain perception about doctors being negligent, of encouraging malpractices in private hospitals. And it cuts across communities. Neither is it peculiar to Bengal. According to a report published by the Indian Medical Association, over 75 percent of doctors have faced violence at work. Even AIIMS has not been spared. The image of doctors not being committed enough or being commercially motivated, is as much a result of inadequate information, understanding, awareness as it is because of a sensationalist media.
And Bengal, with its legacy of poor performance in the health sector, is a sitting duck. That is the real tragedy.
Just as it is tragic to see how an opportunity to actually recover some of her lost ground in the recent elections is being squandered away by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. When she could have shown empathy, maturity and political savvy to turn the situation around, Mamata Banerjee allowed herself to be baited by her political adversaries.
Too busy perhaps to sniff out the Reds and the Saffrons who are allegedly encouraging the protesting doctors, she has antagonised the entire medical fraternity across the country, that stands in solidarity with the striking interns and doctors in Kolkata. Last heard, the principal and medical superintendent/vice principal at NRS have resigned over this fiasco. Even as thousands of hapless patients continue to suffer because of the impasse, Banerjee is charging at the windmills.
Mamata Banerjee Is Sinking Slowly But Surely Into Political Quicksand
Murphy’s law seems to be catching up with Mamata Banerjee.
In 2017, she had summoned representatives of 100 private-run and super-specialty hospitals at a town hall where she gave them a severe tongue lashing for over-pricing, negligence and ill-treatment of poor patients. At the same venue she advised citizens against taking the law into their hands in the event of a death in the hospitals. Mamata Banerjee was referring to the vandalism and tensions that spilled over to the streets following the death of a young girl at the CMRI hospital, bringing that part of the city to a standstill.
It was in a different point in time, when Banerjee was more sure-footed and in a position of strength.
She had earned the wholehearted support of the masses for her policies and tough talk at the time. Now that she is on the wrong side of history, the same belligerence, the same strong words and threats against the agitating doctors in favour of the thousands of patients who have been left in the lurch, are pushing her deeper into the political quicksand – exactly where her adversaries want her to be.
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(Chandrima Pal is an author and senior journalist. She tweets @captainblubear . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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