Is This What The Doctor Ordered?

Doctors during a protest strike at SMHS hospital- KO File Photo: Abid Bhat

If the violence against a couple of doctors cannot be defended how can anyone defend a protest strike by the doctors during a colossal humanitarian crisis?  

Gowhar Geelani

IN any society the medical fraternity is the one that is often looked up to, especially when there is an impending health crisis. Countless women and men draped in white aprons with DR. as prefix have rendered their professional duties in a conflict-hit Kashmir for several decades. Under challenging circumstances they have often delivered the goods.

The isolated acts of hooliganism against a few doctors are not only deplorable, these are also blatantly shameful. Under no circumstances can mob violence be rationalised. Recent incidents of manhandling four doctors at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital and its Super Speciality Wing cannot be Kashmir’s normalcy indicators. The unjustifiable acts cannot be justified.

So, two things are sorted. One, the doctor fraternity is an important cog in the wheel of any society. Two, a civilised society cannot normalise violence against doctors.

Like journalists, sometimes the doctors too are treated as sitting ducks and thus become soft targets of the mob fury. Several journalists have been killed in Kashmir during the past three decades. They have been kidnapped, beaten, tortured and framed. In the 1990s, they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Both the state as well as non-state actors would target them at will. But journalists kept reporting, often at great personal risks.

More recently, dozens of journalists were summoned and interrogated at various police stations for discharging their professional duties. The widely respected journalists including Peerzada Ashiq, Naseer Ganai, Bashaarat Masood, Irfan Hakeem, Masrat Zehra, Fahad Shah and others were interrogated at various police stations for doing their job as storytellers. There are cases registered against several journalists under stringent laws like the UAPA and IPC. Some were forced to reveal sources of their stories. They were intimidated. And for many the judicial process has been mentally torturous. The process has become the punishment.

The powers that be are unhappy with them for journalists can never make all sides happy. The irrefutable truth and unpalatable ground facts always hurt one party or the other. But what do journalists do after facing wrath from various quarters? They do not suspend work. They do not stop writing. Storytellers do not surrender. The warriors do not leave the battlefield.

Though what is unpardonable is that the doctors at SMHS locked doors of the emergency ward in protest against a manhandling incident. The casualty ward cannot be bolted. The patients cannot be left to fend for themselves even during normal times. Kashmir is in the middle of a raging pandemic. If the violence against a couple of doctors cannot be defended how can anyone defend a protest strike by the doctors during a colossal humanitarian crisis? Is this what the doctor ordered?

Some doctors often claim that they are the cream of the society. As they are fighting this tiny virus people across the globe have granted them a new title: frontline warriors. As a token of love, people in several countries garlanded and applauded them with the aim to keep their spirits high. It was well deserved.

Many doctors have been away from their family members and kids. It is a huge psychological challenge for them to work away from the family for hours while knowing that they too can get infected anytime and then suffer in isolation.

Success, they say, has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

A lady doctor from Srinagar was left high and dry once she tested positive for the virus. Her tremendous fight against COVID19 was forgotten. The doctors too have families. They too are human. Several doctors have alleged that they were beaten by the government forces personnel while on way to the hospitals. They too face indignation, sometimes from an angry attendant and other times from a trigger-happy cop.

That said, some doctors have taken refuge in the tried-and-tested technique of shooting the messenger. This technique is a tried-and-tested failure. Granted, the doctors cannot be held to account for administrative loopholes or ailing health infrastructure. But how can we not question them for locking down the emergency ward at SMHS? The protest strike during a pandemic needs a thorough investigation so that the erring doctors are taken to task for taking such an irrational step during a crisis time.

Besides, the many anecdotal evidences, video recorded stories of peoples’ ordeal and the cases of alleged medical negligence cannot be brushed aside. Dr.Mudasir Firdosi, a leading psychiatrist based in the United Kingdom, told this writer that “In Kashmir, medical negligence is not so uncommon.” The buck cannot be passed.

A son complained how he lost his father at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Bemina. He alleged medical negligence. The doctors there refuted the allegations, though. Journalist Umar lost his uncle at SKIMS, Soura. He was detected positive after a trop-T test, indicating heart failure based on his symptoms. He lost the golden hour, first in trying to reach SMHS and then leaving for SKIMS, Soura due to the doctor’s strike at SMHS. How can this be justified? Another attendant alleged that the body of their deceased member was not handed over to the family even after 24 hours had passed. Nor the COVID test of the deceased was given, they said. In a video the man alleged that neither the concerned chief medical officer (CMO) nor the medical superintendent (MS) were available in their rooms. Other attendants pleaded with the doctors not to snatch dignity of their dead. All they wanted was a dignified burial, not an unending torment and humiliation.

How are journalists responsible for showing both sides of the coin? Why are some doctors hurling invective on journalists? Why this misdirected anger? Are doctors above scrutiny? If one were to do a content analysis of writings on Twitter and Facebook by some doctors against Kashmiri populace and journalist fraternity, one would reach a discomforting conclusion. Their writings are shrill. The language employed by them is abusive. The remarks made are unparliamentary, uncivil and uncouth. And they have bloated egos.

A senior doctor accused all journalists of being “boot-licking morons” who, according to the learned doctor, deserve “worst treatment”. Another doctor described journalists as “CowSwamis”, a derogatory reference to Republic News anchor Arnab Goswami. A lady doctor blamed the entire Kashmiri population for the 2005 earthquake, 2014 floods, routine gunfights between militants and government forces personnel, and even the COVID19 pandemic. One more doctor alleged that all journalists are “sold out souls” and called them “pseudo-journalists” who peddle “fake stories”. The list is long.

I am restraining myself from reproducing everything they wrote for the aim is not to show them in poor light, but to make them realise that their superiority complexes need a reality check. Strangely, the otherwise vocal Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) is maintaining an endearing silence over the disgraceful remarks made by several doctors against the journalist fraternity. Is DAK’s silence a sign of complicity?

Privately, many sensible doctors concede that the situation is precarious and a large number of COVID19 patients are managing themselves at home due to psychological influences and the fear that they won’t get adequate care in the hospitals. Off the record, they concede that reports of medical negligence are not exaggerated. As both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases are increasing rapidly the doctors in the hospitals are going to be over stretched further.

The health infrastructure remains the same except for the fact that some hospitals have been converted into COVID level hospitals. Hospitals are in need of station or hospital ventilators, transport ventilators and high-flow oxygen systems for the patients. The limited facilities will get exhausted with an upward trajectory of the COVID19 curve. New hospitals need to be added.

Today, the doctors rightly complain of the poor healthcare infrastructure. Why were the six transport ventilators, donated to Srinagar’s Chest & Disease (CD) Hospital by a credible NGO several months ago, returned? True, even the best healthcare systems around the world have crumbled to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. But denials won’t solve anything. The situation in Kashmir has shown signs of doctor-people relationship deteriorating.

“Was I an incompetent nephew or the system is so competent that it issues death certificates faster than the first aid. I do not have an answer,” these words by journalist Umar on his uncle’s death should haunt us forever!

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Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason

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