New Delhi: As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, it has also led to discrimination and harassment of different groups of people, especially healthcare professionals and crew members in the airline industry.
The Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences made an urgent plea to Home Minister Amit Shah Tuesday requesting action against eviction of healthcare professionals by landlords in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hours later, Shah asked Delhi Commissioner of Police S.N. Shrivastava to ensure security of doctors facing harassment.
The RDA letter, dated 24 March, came after several doctors and nurses at the AIIMS, Delhi, complained of being forcibly evicted by their landlords over fears that they could spread COVID-19.
Doctors across the country have been “stranded on the roads with all their luggage”, read the RDA letter, which came two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to people to observe a janata curfew Sunday to show appreciation for healthcare professionals.
Responding to the forcible evictions, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said in a statement Tuesday that he was “deeply anguished” and urged doctors to not panic.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too expressed concern over the evictions.
Attributing these evictions to public fear, compounded by lockdowns, Dr K.K. Aggarwal, cardiologist and president of the Heart Care Foundation of India, said curfews imposed without proper counselling has triggered panic among people.
The RDA letter also highlights that many medics were facing difficulties in travelling from one place to another due to the lockdowns. The association has requested proper transport for healthcare professionals.
‘Threatened by my society’
The evictions first became public when several government doctors took to Twitter to tell their stories, exhorting PM Modi and the media to intervene.
— Sanjibani Panigrahi (@DrSanjibani) March 23, 2020
So many incidents are coming to light of sincere govt doctors who are now being threatened to enter their own homes! Please look seriously into this matter@narendramodi sir.
A govt doctor. pic.twitter.com/MmLHZejsjf
— Dr.Devashish (@DevPalkar) March 23, 2020
These tweets later led to a public outcry.
Please name and shame your asshole landlords. They need to give you notice before they threaten to evict you. Lawyers, please come to the rescue of doctors.
— TheRichaChadha (@RichaChadha) March 24, 2020
On Sunday, 5pm, the #India was clapping for doctors & health workers. Today lot of social media posts doing the rounds on how doctors & health workers are refused by housing societies to live as they might carry #coronavirus to their home. 😤
Depressing. Pathetic. Inhuman.
— Kumar Manish #StayAtHome 🏡 (@kumarmanish9) March 23, 2020
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also written to Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, seeking government support to overcome challenges faced by the medical fraternity, said Dr R.V. Ashokan, secretary general of the IMA.
“In the medical profession, there are two things we are fighting — fear and stigma. We have been fighting these for centuries, be it for syphilis, the plague or HIV,” he said.
Citing instances of unpaid stipends to students at a Telangana medical college, Ashokan also said the government should disburse remuneration by “taking help” of the Epidemic Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act.
He also highlighted the dearth of protective masks and lack of medical insurance for medics. “Keeping morale is important. Doctors are like the army, turning up for duty. Morale has to be kept high, and this can be done when adequate protection is available.”
Discrimination faced by airline professionals
Like medical professionals, those working in the airline industry have also complained of harassment at the hands of neighbours and Resident Welfare Association (RWA) members.
Have some humanity people .. Listen to Amrita..crew with @IndiGo6E ,she is broken from being discriminated,for wht?? For doing her duty ?When she is gone for her job, her mother is even refused groceries in her society.
This is highly unacceptable #COVIDIOTS #Covid19India pic.twitter.com/3p3EhYto1j
— Priyanka kandpal प्रियंका ਪ੍ਰਿਯੰਕਾ پرینکا (@pri_kandpal) March 24, 2020
A Hyderabad-based air hostess, who didn’t want to be named, alleged harassment at the hands of her neighbours.
“I went to the corner shop to buy water bottles and the neighbours…started blaming me and my line of profession. They said we were spreading the virus. Whenever they see me leave the house, they shout ‘don’t spread the virus, stay at home,’ but my work is an essential service, and I can’t help not going out,” she told ThePrint.
The Air India had Sunday released a statement against “vigilante” RWAs for ostracising crew members and obstructing them from going to work.
Pointing out how instrumental the Air India had been in evacuating Indians stranded in Wuhan, the airline requested enforcement agencies to ensure that crew members were treated with respect.
Many others who have travelled abroad in the past few weeks alleged similar instances of harassment at the hands of neighbours or RWA members.
Kriti Garg, an artist living in Delhi’s Ashok Vihar, complained of harassment at the hands of her neighbours because she had flown from Budapest to New Delhi on 12 March. She told ThePrint that some of her neighbours even contacted her parents, asking them to quarantine her at a government facility.
“I’ve been taking every single precaution and haven’t stepped outside the house. But my parents still get relentless calls from neighbours, even though I was instructed to home quarantine myself. My brother also flew from Birmingham to India on 17 March. Since then, the neighbours have threatened to call the police if we are not sent to government centres,” she said.
Naimish Singhvi, who flew from Bali to Bombay and took a connecting flight to his home in Baroda on 20 March, said he felt being “constantly watched” by his neighbours.
“They haven’t told me to go to a government quarantine centre, but they are constantly calling or messaging to ask if I have stepped out of the house. I feel like I am being constantly watched,” he told ThePrint.