Thousands of doctors held protests across India on Friday and one of the leading unions announced a nationwide strike on Monday, stepping up an agitation that began from Kolkata and has now escalated into a public health worry with political overtones.
Bengal bore the brunt of the protests on Friday, with junior doctors digging in their heels after chief minister Mamata Banerjee gave them an ultimatum the previous day. At least one death, that of a child who could not be admitted to a government hospital, was reported.
“We are demanding an immediate end to the violence against doctors. The strike is in response to a grave situation,” said RV Asokan, secretary general of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which claims to represent 350,000 doctors. IMA also wrote to Union home minister Amit Shah calling for a new law to ensure the safety of doctors in the country.
Stirs and demonstrations were witnessed across 17 states and Union Territories and involved about 100,000 doctors across India, according to reports from various medical associations.
Trouble began on Monday when three junior doctors at NRS Medical College in Kolkata were assaulted by the relatives of a patient who died during treatment.
On Friday, at least a dozen prominent government hospitals in Bengal were paralysed and hundreds of doctors threatened to resign and continue their agitation if the state government did not meet their demands.
“We want an unconditional apology from the chief minister for the manner in which she addressed us yesterday. She should not have said what she had,” a spokesperson of the joint forum of junior doctors, Dr Arindam Dutta, said while listing six conditions.
The other demands included a personal visit by Banerjee to the injured doctors, a condemnation of Monday’s attack, and a judicial inquiry into alleged police inaction against the assailants.
A petition also flagged the matter to the Calcutta high court, which refused to pass an interim order on the strike and asked the state government to persuade doctors to resume work and provide usual services to patients. The court also directed the Bengal government to spell out the steps it took following the attack.
The CM met five prominent doctors and her office invited four representatives of the doctors from NRS Medical College, where Monday’s attack took place, to the state secretariat for discussion but the offer was turned down.
Doctors in other states took out protest marches and wore black bands and helmets to work, as the fight reached the federal government and the Supreme Court as well. Patients in some major hospitals in the nation, such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims), were seen queued outside out-patient department (OPD) sections as doctors participated in demonstrations.
“Doctors should resort to other simple and symbolic ways of protest. As medical professionals, their duty is towards protecting the rights of their patients,” said Union health minister Harsh Vardhan in New Delhi, when he also called on Banerjee to “not make this a prestige issue” and resolve the matter with the protesters.
“Despite getting beaten up so badly, doctors have only asked her [Mamata Banerjee] to provide them adequate security and also demanded action against the perpetrators of the violence as per the law… But instead of doing that, she warned them and gave an ultimatum which angered doctors across the country and they proceeded on strike,” he said.
“So if the chief minister acts in a sensitive manner in such a grave scenario, patients across the country will not suffer,” he added.
Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Friday said he called up chief minister Banerjee to discuss the strike but got no response from her. “I have called her up. Till this moment there is no response from her. If she calls me, we will discuss the matter,” he said while visiting one of the doctors injured in Monday’s attack.
Jun 14, 2019 23:49 IST