Bengal Doctors’ Stir: Anger And Outrage Overcome Fear Of Trinamool Bullying

Bengal Doctors’ Stir: Anger And Outrage Overcome Fear Of Trinamool BullyingDoctors of NRS College and Hospital sit in protest.
Snapshot
  • Doctors of Bengal have finally decided to stand up to threats and hooliganism, and this time they have the public on their side.

    Public support has given the medics courage to resist government effort to browbeat them into withdrawing the stir.

Any ‘ceasework’ by life-savers naturally causes grave inconvenience to the ailing and provokes a backlash. But this time, defying all logic, public support for Bengal’s agitating doctors is building up and even relatives of the ill are sympathising with the agitating doctors. That has given the medics the much-needed courage to defy all attempts by the Trinamool Congress government and the party’s goons to browbeat them into withdrawing the stir.

The murderous attack on interns of Kolkata’s Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital earlier this week by relatives and neighbours of octogenarian Muhammad Sayeed, who died of a heart attack, led to ceasework by the doctors of the state-run healthcare institution. The critical injuries sustained by two junior doctors, coupled with initial inaction by the state police, who were reportedly reluctant to take action because the attackers belonged to the minority community, sparked outrage in the medical fraternity.

What added to the anger was prolonged silence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who usually reacts promptly to all matters. Her silence for three long days after the brutal assault on the doctors by the Muslim mob numbering about 200 reinforced the oft-repeated allegations of minority-appeasement against her. By Wednesday, doctors of other state-run as well as private hospitals had joined in the agitation in solidarity with their fellow-medics at NRS Medical College and Hospital.

But what added highly-combustible fuel to the raging fire were her warnings and threats to the agitating doctors on Thursday. Her utter insensitivity and intemperate comments against the doctors caused outrage not only among the medical fraternity, but also the public. And as reports of Trinamool goons and functionaries barging into hospitals to bully and attack agitating doctors, and the government trying to break the agitation through dubious means, gained circulation, the situation only aggravated.

The video of an angry Banerjee threatening the doctors went viral, and it not only caused widespread disgust but also evoked strong condemnation from many outside the medical fraternity. Most of all, it led to the general public coming out in support of doctors, who have been at the receiving end of mob violence in Bengal for many years now.

Chanchal Sardar, 43, had brought his ailing mother Chayarani to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday evening. The 68-year-old lady, suffering from a kidney ailment, could not be admitted to the state-run hospital and Chanchal had to admit his mother to a private nursing home.

“I was initially very angry with the doctors for going on a ceasework. While no one can support mob attacks on doctors, the latter also have to realise that they are in a critical profession and cannot go on strike because it can cost lives. But after hearing about how Trinamool goons and leaders have started attacking doctors, and Mamata Banerjee’s insensitive comments, I fully sympathise with the doctors now. If the Chief Minister does not offer them support at a time when they fear for their lives, what will they do? Their agitation is justified. I would have done the same in their place,” said Chanchal. He even went and sat with the agitation doctors in their dharna. Many other ordinary folks have done the same.

Sheikh Rizwan runs a fruit stall next to Chittaranjan National Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata’s Park Circus area. Most of his customers are relatives of patients admitted to the state-run hospital.

“I have been witness to quite a number of incidents of people accompanying patients assaulting doctors at the hospital. The police don’t help the doctors. I know the long hours and the hard work that the doctors, especially the junior doctors, put in. It is a sin to assault a doctor, no matter what the cause. If people attack doctors, doctors will naturally feel unsafe and refuse to work. I fully sympathise with the agitating doctors. Yes, people will suffer. But every action will have a reaction. Didn’t people suffer when Mamata Banerjee launched agitations when she was in the opposition?” questions the 45-year-old man.

The many and repeated incidents of assault on doctors by kin or neighbours of patients alleging medical negligence have pushed doctors to the brink in Bengal, say many. “I can understand and fully sympathise with the anguish and anger of the doctors. I know police don’t take any action against those who assault doctors and despite the many incidents of such assaults and numerous assurances given by the state government, the assaults haven’t stopped. That is because the state government has not taken strong and exemplary action against the perpetrators of such assaults and have, instead, often targeted doctors (read this). So it has become a do-or-die situation for the doctors,” said Koenica Chattopadhyay, a senior research scholar at the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science, a premier scientific institution.

Many blame the Trinamool government of conveying the impression that it sides with kin of patients who allege medical negligence and use it as an excuse to assault doctors and ransack hospitals. In all such cases, though police made arrests, the accused were let off on bailable charges. None of the accused was prosecuted firmly. “The legislation enacted by the state government imposing stiff penalties on private hospitals and doctors for alleged medical negligence has also created the impression that the Trinamool government is against doctors,” said Kaushik Dam, an ENT specialist.

The law, passed in March 2017, came after Banerjee openly sided with the family of a person who died of alleged medical negligence at a prominent private hospital in Kolkata (read this and this). Some public statements made by Banerjee warning private hospitals against fleecing patients and medical negligence apparently emboldened many to attack private hospitals and doctors. And since no action was taken against the attackers in any of the numerous cases of such attacks and assaults, the impression that the government was siding with the attackers gained ground and spurred more attacks.

The Chief Minister had, many times in the past, held out assurances to doctors that the police would prosecute anyone who assaults them. But such assurances proved empty. Police pickets in hospitals were ineffective, as the attack on doctors at NRS earlier this week proved.

“The police in Bengal, we all know by now, don’t pursue and prosecute criminals. And we also know how Banerjee has encouraged lawlessness all over the state. The Trinamool patronises goons and all of us are suffering because of that. Law and order has broken down in the state and I am all for the agitating doctors. Agitations always cause suffering to a lesser or larger degree, but at times it becomes imperative to agitate,” said Nabarun Sengupta, a retired professor of sociology of Calcutta University.

Buoyed by such expressions of support, the agitating doctors have vowed to continue their agitation. “But doctors, especially in the medical colleges and hospitals in the districts, are also scared. Trinamool leaders have been going and threatening them. Even in Kolkata, Trinamool goons are attacking doctors. This is an unprecedented situation,” said Indranil Khan, an oncologist who heads an association of doctors.

“But doctors in Bengal are now fighting with their backs to the wall. The people who actually assaulted and nearly murdered the two junior doctors at NRS Hospital are still at large and we know they will be allowed to go scot-free if we back off now and withdraw the agitation. And then, more assaults on doctors will happen. There is no saying that next time, a doctor will not be killed. We are in this profession to save lives, not to get killed. And we are happy that people have started supporting us,” said Khan.

As of now, the agitating doctors are angry and defiant. But they are also apprehensive, and fearful. Because, as Saugato Majumdar, a junior doctor in a state-run hospital in Kolkata says, “there is no knowing what the government under Banerjee will do”.

“We all know that this government is very vengeful and can go to any extent to teach us a lesson for our defiance. But come what may, we will continue our agitation till our demands are met,” he added.

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