New Delhi: The Indian Medical Association (IMA) Monday announced that it was “withdrawing its esteem” for one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet, over the British publication’s editorial on Jammu and Kashmir.
In a strongly-worded letter addressed to Richard Horton, the Lancet editor-in-chief, the IMA said the journal has “committed (a) breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue” and has questioned the “credibility” and “malafide intention” behind the Jammu and Kashmir editorial.
“IMA on behalf of the medical fraternity of India withdraws the esteem we had for The Lancet,” reads the letter signed by IMA’s national president, Shantanu Sen, and secretary-general, R.V. Asokan, adding that the journal has “reacted to an internal administrative decision of the government of India under the garb of concern for the health of Kashmiris”.
The IMA was responding to an editorial published in The Lancet’s volume 394 on 17 August.
In the editorial, titled ‘Fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s future’, the journal has raised concerns over health, security and freedom of the people of Kashmir.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows that his decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir,” it said. “But first, the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation.”
Speaking to ThePrint, Asokan, the IMA secretary-general, said the association will now discourage young doctors from reading the journal.
“The journal has crossed the line between commenting on health issues and political situations. Since the last many decades, it has been the most popular journal among medical fraternity but it has lost all respect now. Why get into issues that are not of your concern neither you have the expertise to comment?” Asokan told ThePrint.
“We are not going to refer to this journal anymore, nor we are going to ask young doctors to read it.”
The ‘controversial’ editorial
In its editorial, Lancet has claimed that protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis in Kashmir. It also termed India’s move to revoke the autonomous status of J&K as “controversial”.
“The announcement fanned tension with Pakistan, which also claims the region and has fought India over it for more than seven decades,” it said.
The editorial published has also claimed that the huge “militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people”.
“Since the insurgency of Kashmir in 1989, the state has experienced bloody conflict from both sides, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths,” it said.
Backlash on social media from the medical fraternity
The Lancet editorial received backlash from Indians, especially doctors on Twitter, who have not welcomed its move to comment on the country’s political issues.
Dr. Ambrish Mithal, head of the department, division of endocrinology and diabetes, Medanta, Gurgaon, tweeted, “The issue is the appropriateness of a medical journal Lancet commenting on a purely political issue. Such unprecedented political ‘prescriptions’ raise serious questions about the motives of the editors. TheLancet owes its readers an apology.”
The issue is the appropriateness of a medical journal Lancet commenting on a purely political issue. Such unprecented political 'prescriptions' raise serious questions about the motives of the editors.@TheLancet
owes its readers an apology. Next edit on #Ireland #Hongkongprotes?
— Dr Ambrish Mithal (@DrAmbrishMithal) August 18, 2019
Another medical expert, Dr Anoop Misra, chairman at Fortis CDOC Hospital for Diabetes and Allied Sciences, tweeted that he rather read publications such as The New York Times on governance issues.
Medical journals could comment on country's health funding, infrastructure etc. If it is governance issue; I will rather read @nytimes, @washingtonpost or @TIME . Lancet editors should stick to science. #kashmir is out of editorial skills of Lancet.@TheLancet
— anoop misra (@docanoopmisra) August 18, 2019
There has, however, also been support for Lancet.
Dr Sumaiya Shaikh, an Indian-origin neuroscientist and researcher at the Linköping University Hospital in Sweden, said not just The Lancet but even the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has released editorials focusing on the public health issues emerging from a “conflict zone”.
“Peer-reviewed journals frequently comment on the public health crisis emerging from various conflict issues such as Iraq and Syria. They explicitly focus on mental health and terrorism, and Kashmir is no exception,” she told ThePrint. “The IMA has unnecessarily politicised a public health issue by issuing the notice. It is a personal choice to maintain an individual subscription to a specific journal, but an organisational condemnation and lack of tolerance for a public health argument, which has emerged from an academic space, is nothing short of distressing.”
- The copy has been updated with Dr Sumaiya Shaikh’s quotes.