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Charak Shapath sets stage for latest stand-off between Tamil Nadu’s DMK govt & Centre

TN govt removes Madurai Medical College dean after students recite oath endorsed by National Medical Commission. Students take responsibility, say they didn't consult faculty.

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Chennai: The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led government in Tamil Nadu Sunday removed the dean of Madurai Medical College from his position for purportedly following the National Medical Commission’s (NMC) recommendation to administer the Maharshi Charak Shapath to first-year students in place of the Hippocratic Oath. 

It’s the latest in a series of face-offs between the DMK government and the Centre, with the former having earlier rejected the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to medical schools. 

In February, the NMC, which regulates medical education in India, had recommended that medical colleges replace the Hippocratic Oath with the Charak Shapath — drawing flak from many, including the Indian Medical Association. In March, the NMC issued a fresh circular recommending that the shapath be used when fresh batches of students are introduced to medical education. 

It was this circular issued in March that students at Madurai Medical College say they used as a guideline to administer the oath at a fresher’s day event Saturday. The members of MMC’s student council have taken responsibility for the change in the oath, calling it a “last-minute decision” that was “made in a hurry” ahead of the event. 

“The Maharshi Charak Shapath was on the National Medical Commission’s website as the recommended oath for the 2021-22 batch of new students,” student council president Jothish Kumaravel told The Print. “I was actually the one who read it out on stage. I read the English translation of the shapath, which was available online.”

The Tamil Nadu government said in a press note that the attempt to replace the Hippocratic Oath, which is a charter of ethical principles that physicians have sworn to uphold while practicing their profession, was condemnable.

The Hippocratic Oath is attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates and is widely seen as an important step in the study to become a doctor. The oath is administered after the ‘White Coat Ceremony’, which marks a student’s transition into clinical health sciences.

The Charak Shapath, on the other hand, traces its genesis to Charaka, one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda. The oath is found in the Charaka Samhita, a foundational text of ancient Indian medicine.

Also read: Now Charak Shapath to replace Hippocratic Oath? Medical board holds talks with colleges

Students didn’t consult faculty, oath administered in English

Speaking to ThePrint Monday, Madurai Medical College’s dean, Dr A. Rathinavel, who is on a ‘waiting list’ pending a departmental enquiry into the incident, said he wasn’t aware what was going to be read Saturday until the students uttered the first words on stage. He also noted that he had verbally communicated to the health minister’s office that the error had occurred because the students did not consult the faculty.  

Some media reports suggested that students were administered the oath in Sanskrit instead of the Hippocratic Oath in English, which has been the norm in the state’s medical colleges in the state.

But both the students and the dean claimed that it was an English translation of the shapath that was read. “So many media outlets and hundreds of audience members were present at the function where the oath was administered in English,” Rathinavel told The Print. “I don’t know where the communication gap occurred where people thought it was read in Sanskrit.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Kumaravel said that it was an inadvertent mistake by the students and admitted to not having consulted the faculty. “I feel dejected by what has happened, especially since the dean was removed because of this issue,” he said. 

Government response

Saturday’s oath-taking ceremony was attended by Tamil Nadu finance minister Palanivel Thiagarajan and commercial taxes minister P. Moorthy, who were chief guests at the event.

Reports suggest that the finance minister asked the dean if the oath had been changed after he heard the Charak Shapath. “I always thought that the doctors took a Hippocratic Oath. In fact, I’ve been recommending politicians to take the same oath,” Thiagarajan reportedly said.

The following day, state health minister Ma. Subramanian ordered the action against the dean and directed the Department of Medical Education (DME) to order a departmental enquiry on the change of the oath. All colleges in the state were now instructed to stick to the Hippocratic Oath.

Speaking to the press in Madurai on Monday, student council president Kumaravel said: “The NMC guidelines say that the Charak Shapath is recommended for newly inducted students; they haven’t said it is mandatory.” 

Referring to the guidelines in Tamil Nadu, he said: “Till yesterday they didn’t say that the Hippocratic Oath needs to be compulsorily taken, nor have they said the Charak Shapath should not be taken. Only yesterday (Sunday), did we receive a circular that says that all colleges in Tamil Nadu should only take the Hippocratic Oath and not the Charak Shapath.”

However, director of medical education Dr. R. Narayana Babu told ThePrint that a fresh order was issued Sunday to “reconfirm” the tradition of administering the Hippocratic Oath.

“We never asked any institution to deviate from the routine practices, and we issued a new order to re-confirm what we have always practiced,” he said. He also said that the dean, as the principal of the college, was responsible for the error. “He should have checked the procedure and not taken it for granted. There were no instructions from the DME or the health ministry to change the procedure,” he said.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Dr A. Rathinavel was removed from his position as dean of Madurai Medical College and put on a waiting list, not suspended. The error is regretted.

Also read: Charaka vow for doctors is disturbing. Some parts of Indian heritage belong only in history books


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