By Dr. Arun Mitra
Dissent and different views are always strength of democracy and essential for development of any society. Unfortunately there is increasing intolerance to Dissent by those at the helms of affairs. This is not limited to one part of the world or any set of people. Even those who save the life of others are not being spared. Nobel Laureate Dr Denis Mukwege, who has worked for decades with great courage and compassion to address the needs of survivors of sexual violence has been getting threats to his life. He has been opposing the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, in the strife ridden Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and around the world. In 2012 he faced a deadly assault in which he narrowly escaped but his guard was killed.
Undeterred he never gave up and is continuing to raise his voice vociferously. He has operated upon hundreds of such patients and given them a new lease of life both physically and mentally. For his work he was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 along with Nadia Murad. Threats to his life have increased recently. Several Health activists and Nobel Laureates including the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) Nobel Peace Prize awardee 1985 and then as a partner of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2017 have in strong words condemned such cowardly acts and have extended all support to Dr Mukwege.
There are reports of onslaught on doctors in Turkey. Doctors who called war a “man-made public health problem” received jail sentences, in the government-led assault on the Turkish Medical Association last year.
In India in the state of Punjab many health personal faced threat and were attacked during the terrorist violence in the decade from 1980 – 1990. Some of these health activists preached against the violence while there were others who were attacked for extortion. They suffered at the hands of both, the government and the terrorists.
But recently such threats from the state have increased in our country. Dr Kafeel Khan, who worked in Gorakhpur and treated the cases of encephalitis, was charged by the authorities for raising voice against lack of oxygen supply and other basic equipment which led to death of several children. Even though he was exonerated by the local enquiries twice, he was not taken back to the job. Not only that, he was booked under National Security Act (NSA) for addressing a rally at Aligarh on the charges of inciting, communal hatred and violence. In a strong worded judgment the Allahabad high court, while relieving him of all charges, has warned those who had booked him under the NSA for complete dereliction of duty and constitutional oath. Dr Kafeel has appealed to the government to take him back to the job as now he has been discharged by the high court. But the government has not responded so far.
Likewise Dr Anwar who helped hundreds of patients from all communities irrespective of socio economic status and financial considerations during the engineered communal violence in Delhi in the end February has been named in the list of those who in the eyes of government abetted communal violence.
Dr Sudhakar Rao from Andhra Pradesh was suspended from the job when he raised the issue of lack of regular supply of PPEs during the COVID. After some time when he again raised the issues he was stripped off and dragged by the police. It was later said that he is mentally unstable. To drag a mentally unstable person like this is even a bigger crime because such patients have to be dealt with more empathy and sympathy than others.
It is a matter of anguish that the health workers have been looked upon with suspicion at some places as spreaders of COVID infection. A doctor couple in Delhi had complained that the people living in the society where they have their house were against them just because they are on the COVID duty and they feared that this couple will infect them too. Some nurses were not allowed to enter their place of stay fearing that other persons in the locality will cath infection. The health workers engaged in difficult tasks need appreciation and encouragement. But such incidents and in human behaviour discourages them. This can have long lasting effect on their behaviour which may affect the psychological build up of their children.
There have also been incidents when the doctors had been attacked by the mobs and injured seriously just because they thought that their ward has not been treated well.
Whatever may happen, it is the moral, ethical and professional duty of the doctors to continue to work for the betterment of society. The Red Cross, the Doctors Without Borders are the organizations which show the way. In the Sikh history in India Bhai Ghanhaiya is a well known figure who gave water to wounded soldiers from both sides of the army despite objections by some of his mates. But Guru Gobind Singh ji appreciated his humanly task.
Let the government and the society realise that doctors too have the right to dissent and express their opinion which must be given due respect and consideration and not treated with violence by the people or the state. (IPA Service)