16/03/2017 9:15 PM IST | Updated 20/03/2017 1:35 PM IST

India, Save Thy Doctors!

This country is unsafe for doctors, and no one seems to care.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters

A few days ago, disturbing footage of a doctor at the Civil Hospital in Dhule (Maharashtra) being beaten up by irate relatives of a patient went viral on Facebook. The story was also carried by the mainstream media. The issue over which the incident took place was systemic and was not remotely the fault of the hapless doctor. I am driven to write this piece here not just because it forebodes a rough future for the medical profession in India, but also because I was a student of the same institution in one of my undergraduate years. I can relate with every bit of what went down on that unfortunate day.

Anybody who cares to take a survey of the multitude of such episodes would establish that the greatest proportion of such assaults happen with resident doctors, or doctors who are still in the process of honing their craft. This is perfectly understandable because in big tertiary centres such as district hospitals, a resident doctor is not only the first point of contact with patients but also the one handling the maximum workload. They put in hours and even days at a time, and in the process are expected to be stoical and compliant enough to earn a satisfactory evaluation from their seniors. Residents, therefore, can be reckoned to form the backbone of any such functioning hospital. If you aren't convinced of the veracity of the preceding statement, you may try asking about what happens when residents go on strike.

Every new incident brings little in the form of action other than spoken condemnation, futile protests and candlelight marches.

Now, what's must powers-that-be to do when they deal with valuable resources such as residents? Their duty is to protect and preserve them—for our country and our people—and to put in place mechanisms to punish perpetrators and deter people from getting unfairly confrontational with them. Abdication of this responsibility amounts to nothing short of dereliction of duty.

I can cite multiple instances highlighting how our residents hardly ever get their due, but that's another story. What startles me is the criminal indifference of our authorities towards such assaults, which occur with depressing regularity. Knowing the ever-sensitive atmosphere in any healthcare facility, mechanisms to deter episodes of violence should have been envisaged long ago. Yet, every new incident brings little in the form of action other than spoken condemnation, futile protests and candlelight marches. Every time such horrific assaults take place, we see the political powers turn into mute spectators, doing little other than trying to put out the fires and waiting for flames to subside. What keeps us from addressing the elephant in the room? Have we reached the nadir of appeasement politics? Do we so severely lack visionaries like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who were ready to defy popular opinion and take firm measures to uphold what is right?

I am a huge exponent of mass awareness and education some things are beyond the scope of such measures. What we're witnessing today is an infectious attitude permeating all of society, almost on the verge of becoming universal. We have far left behind the time when we could rely on effective public communication to kindle a sympathetic attitude towards our healthcare providers. Violence against doctors is evolving into a formidable nemesis of the medical fraternity of our country, and it's time for us to urgently come up with mechanisms to provide real and tangible security to our healthcare providers, lest it shall jeopardize the future of this profession in India. I would like to solemnly call upon my fraternity to take an unyielding stand on this issue, and expect those in power to be galvanised into action before another such horrific episode ensues.

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