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There's Nothing 'Shameful' About Doctors Striking From Work

It's a travesty for the Bombay High Court to say so…

22/03/2017 3:01 PM IST | Updated 23/03/2017 3:25 PM IST
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I am appalled at the way the Bombay High Court on Tuesday came down on resident doctors who decided to depart on a mass leave following the horrific episodes of violence against doctors we've seen in the last few days. Let me quote Chief Justice Chellur as she responded to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the mass exodus of doctors, which has admittedly paralyzed the civic health services in Maharashtra: "It is a shame on the profession; if doctors go on strike like factory men, then they are unfit to be doctors."

Given the number of farcical judgements we've been hearing of late—from acquitting a well-known actor despite overwhelming evidence to imposing twisted versions of patriotism on people—perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Yet, I find myself reeling under the sheer irresponsibility of Justice Chellur's statement. Indeed, the utter callousness of the remark makes me wonder if it was made in an inebriated state.

If a factory worker can rightfully go on a strike on account of not being paid wages, can doctors not stage a protest if their lives are endangered?

I don't understand the comparison with factory workers for one. What is the judge implying? That the right to strike is reserved with only a certain section of our people? Do only factory workers have to right to strike? If a factory worker can rightfully go on a strike on account of not being paid wages, can doctors not stage a protest if their lives are endangered at the workplace? The judge's statement not only plays down the gravity of the situation, but is also dismisses a doctor's right to life.

It has long been our tendency as a society to view the medical profession through rose-tinted glasses and impose lofty moral standards on doctors. An institution as exalted as a court, however, is expected to be able to comprehend doctors as "professionals" who come under the same terms of professionalism as other professionals. However, every time doctors quit work to express their grievances, we see our courts and powers resort to the moral weapon with terms like "shame" to push them back to performing their duties. Words like "shame" and discourses on morals are better left to informal dealings and should never be the approach of formal public institutions such as courts. Unfortunately, this realisation doesn't seem to have hit them yet. Moreover, even from a moral standpoint, is it really a shame upon them if they quit their duty because they fear death?

The most outrageous aspect of it all is the labelling of such attacks on doctors as a natural "consequence" of their work. Coming from an exalted civic professional whom others look up to, it's scary for me to even imagine what this portends for a democracy like ours. We have always known our judiciary's perpetual failure to deliver, but its failure to not think before delivering a judgement seems to be a recently acquired trait.

It has long been our tendency as a society to view the medical profession through rose-tinted glasses and impose lofty moral standards on doctors.

Our people of law, for some weird reason, believe that they can be comfortably judgemental of anybody, even if what or whom they judge falls far outside of their fief. The same seems to be the case here as they deem protesting doctors to be unfit for the profession. I don't understand how knowledge of law can make someone the supreme arbitrator of who deserves what. The only thing this shockingly careless statement raises a question mark on is the prudence of our lawpersons.

Such a statement is a typical example of how our powers deal with those sections of our society that, though highly important to the country, do not constitute a vote bank. It is easy to understand that the intent behind this statement was to somehow prod resident doctors to resume their duties, while placing blame on them at the same time. It's high time our authorities grow up to the reality that the country lodges legions of people who can see right through their rhetoric.

The responsibilities of our authorities and judiciary go much beyond than simply framing and following laws—it is their duty to carefully sculpt mass sentiments through their statements and actively deter episodes which are detrimental to the welfare of the state. However, the judiciary of this country seems to have grown so myopic that it fails to appreciate the downward course the medical profession has taken recently. The medical profession has already incurred an amount of irreversible damage in the last few weeks. Resident doctors are the new breed of malcontents moving around with deep-seated rancour in their minds. If our powers don't come out of their illness, the entire country, including doctors, shall sicken—perhaps irreversibly!

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