On 22 March, Indians stood obediently to bang their pots and pans, as a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thanks-giving gesture for those at the frontline battle against coronavirus — especially doctors, nurses and health workers.
Just a day later, news proved that this gesture, mostly done by those who live in apartment complexes and have the luxury of owning balconies, was mere lip service. Landlords from such complexes forcefully evicted doctors and healthcare professionals, a move fuelled by apathy and paranoia that they might “spread” the coronavirus.
Dear Indians, don’t stand in the balcony with candles if you don’t want Covid-19-treating doctors as your neighbours. Blindly following Modi’s calls without understanding the essence of the candle, pots and pans tasks is as hypocritical as saying we want persecuted minorities from other countries, but we will discriminate against our own minorities.
Injustice against doctors
Last Sunday, once again on the call of PM Modi, the nation came together in another symbolic show of solidarity against the virus — this time by switching off lights and lighting, lamps, diyas, and even bursting crackers. Again, just a day later, a clip of a man allegedly aggressively abusing his neighbour who is a doctor in Gujarat went viral. Her fault? She worked at a nearby hospital helping Covid-19 patients.
Doctor working in Surat Civil Hospital was harassed by her neighbour who abused her and also physically assaulted.
CM @vijayrupanibjp must take strict action.
Doctors already suffer due to lack of PPEs. Now they also are facing social isolation!pic.twitter.com/P31N3H6BMw
— Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) April 6, 2020
The dissonance between these elaborate gestures on one hand, and such shocking, illegal and inhumane behaviour on the other, is unnerving. It is also perhaps a reflection of the more worrying hypocrisy shown by the very leader who called for such displays of gratitude, but has taken no swift action in response to the multiple calls of doctors and doctors’ associations practically begging for more and better protective equipment. While the Modi government hails India’s medical community as “warriors” in the country’s fight against coronavirus, doctors are wearing raincoats and helmets in isolation wards — the only armour at their disposal.
The gross injustice meted out to doctors does not stop at these incidents alone. A day after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, a Telangana-based doctor was stopped and assaulted by the police on her way to work. Last week, a group of doctors who went to screen patients in a locality in Indore faced a stone-pelting mob, suffering several injuries. Relatives of a 49-year-old coronavirus patient who died at a government hospital in Hyderabad went on to assault the doctor and staff on duty, citing negligence. More and more reports pour in of doctors being spat on, hurled abuses at, physically chased. One can’t help but wonder — is this the same country that has for decades considered engineering and medicine the only worthy professions? Is it the same country in which medicine is such a coveted profession that there are 279 government medical colleges against 260 private ones? Now, even nurses have moved the Supreme Court asking it to direct Centre to form a ‘National Covid-19 Management Protocol’ in order to address concerns related to extreme risks faced by health workers.
Nothing new for doctors
A conversation with someone from the medical community will reveal that while doctors may be hurt right now, they are not shocked — which explains why the doctors who were attacked in Indore, returned to complete screening of people in the same locality the next day. Attacks on doctors have become routine, sometimes because of angry family members who lose a loved one, or sometimes by people who are frustrated by the broken healthcare system of the country. In June 2019, doctors launched a pan-India strike protesting against the violent attacks on them by the families of patients.
Being a doctor, nurse, or health care worker was never posited as a glamorous profession, always one that required sacrifice, discipline and a sense of selfless duty. But surely that didn’t entail absorbing the physical and mental abuse that these past few weeks have brought to the fore? How depraved as a society do we have to be, to attack the ones who protect us.
During the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen a massive outpour of support from philanthropists, NGOs, celebrities and citizens for daily wage workers, farmers, artisans, and all those who might be hit by this pandemic. Perhaps, we need to come together, not just through symbolic gestures, for our health care professionals to protect them, facilitate their work and amplify their needs and concerns. Even if we may not do it out of the goodness of our hearts, at least we can do it for ourselves, because by attacking doctors for doing their jobs and by demoralising them, we are not helping ourselves get through this crisis any faster.
Views are personal.