The Ordinance on punishing “miscreants” who attack healthcare personnel was issued on April 22. Whether it would really put an end to attacks etc is to be seen in practice. A few case studies of attacks on doctors and their media coverage will be useful in this connection. Hence this news analysis.
Adarsh Pratap Singh, President of AIIMS Healthcare Professional Association, tweeted and tagged Home Minister Amit Shah and said, “We wanted the entire country to know that we were being harassed,” Many doctors are now stranded on roads with all their luggage, nowhere to go, across the country,” the letter said. “We condemn such an attitude and [request] an order [to stop this]. The IMA condemned the social boycott of doctors. IMA units also complained the same way : Many temporary residents, staff nurses, and healthcare professionals are told to vacate their rented houses, PG homes, hostels etc.
But this is less projected, while attacks by Muslims are singled out, exaggerated and distorted.
The panic and scare about the Covid-19 pandemic, aided by the globalised revolution in communication systems, the internet etc., is unprecedented in its scale and extent. And it is aggravated by 24×7 electronic media, with its mostly sensational, unbalanced and scary reports that reached billions of people including the illiterate masses. All this went together with lock-downs of whole territories, unprecedented in mankind’s known history.
In India, this corona virus was complicated by a communal virus, more pernicious, virulent, and faster in its spread. Indeed it was rightly called a social pandemic in a country that is continental in size and diversity. Large sections of the big media, not speak of sections of social media, played a dirty role, by playing up the social pandemic.
Attacks on doctors took place and were reported in this context, with all the ugly features mentioned above.
Recent deluge of misinformation, unbalanced and in-objective reportage, gave rise to a certain reading of the problem, often misleading and mischievous too. And that led to the April 22 ordinance.
People badly need doctors and hospitals, and value their services. They are not fools or brutes. But still attacks did and do take place. They are nothing new in India. Why?
Poverty, malnutrition, non-availability of potable drinking water, poor sanitation, lack of education and scientific outlook etc create a huge disease burden in India. We have a public health system that is inadequate, and poor in quality, more so when it attends to the poor people. The last three decades witnessed heartless commercialization and corporatization of the sector that became a curse to the people. Even doctors, more so the juniors, are exploited and harassed by the corporate hospitals. Often, they are set targets and forced into unethical practices,that harmed people.Thus there are perennial conflicts between people and doctors.
World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 2.6 million people die annually in low-and middle-income countries from medical errors, and that most of those deaths are related to misdiagnosis and administration of pharmaceutical products. 2.5 lakh people die in USA alone, for the same reason. A 2016 study published in The BMJ identified medical error as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In India, there are no clear records; nobody cares.
In such a context, whenever patients were badly upset that proper care was not being taken in hospitals, including private ones, they would go into nasty moods. In cases where it is felt patients died due to negligence in the hospitals, in the eyes of the near and dear of the patients, it was leading to violence against doctors.
In India we do not have a regular and accepted practice of complaints against hospitals being investigated and settled appropriately. Nor a regular procedure of punishing the hospitals and compensating the victims. Though some laws and rules were framed, there are few instances where justice was done.
Thus violence against doctors was not new. In fact, in June 2019, doctors had launched a pan-India strike protesting the violent attacks on them by the families of patients. The issue went to Supreme Court too.
While doctors were hurt and demoralized by recent physical attacks, given the above situation,they were not shocked. What shocked was the new phenomenon of quite some people shunning and ostracizing them. They were at times being asked by co-residents and house owners to vacate the housing area or the apartments they rented.
One narrative hyped in the media in the present context was how doctors were attacked and harassed by muslims : How brutal, and inhuman? Indeed there were a few such cases.
The muslim community leaders, and the so-called progressives, do not even condemn the culprits in such attacks! This is the falsehood, much tweeted and shared, added to spice up the stories.
Many incidents of condemnation by them can be seen, but in such a small print and innocuously that one has to research to find them. Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, AIMPLB, muslim clerics, and actress Shabana Azmi, for instance, are among those who condemned such attacks. But such news is buried and lost amidst sensational and provocative stories.
There indeed were sporadic attacks on doctors, each having its own story and moral. Not just by muslims.
We shall now see a few cases:
Firstly, two incidents that happened in Delhi, right under the nose of the Home Minister Amit Shah.
Deccan Herald reported on April 9 two incidents, saying the pandemic coronavirus appears to be rupturing the social fabric in the national capital. Some points in the report are :
1) First incident : This did not take place in any hospital or in relation to any screening of muslims, nor in any far away place.
April 1 Wednesday night, two women doctors, who are sisters, of Safdarjung Hospital of Delhi, were attacked by a 42-year-old man, accusing them of spreading the virus infection.
The incident took place in Gautam Nagar of South Delhi, where the doctors stay, at around 9.20 PM, when they came out of their rented accommodation to buy fruits.
The assailant was a Sanjeev Sharma, aged 42, (many reports omitted his Hindu name of the maryada purushottam ) who told the doctors that they should not be out on the streets and asked them to stay away. He said they were not allowed to come to public places and it was because of doctors, COVID-19 is spreading.
(Many thought that it was being spread by Tablighis only !)
According to Safdarjung Hospital Resident Doctors Association president Dr Manish, the two doctors tried to reason with him, he told them that they were bringing problems to the locality and slapped them. “He also hit them on their neck and twisted their hands when questioned,” he said.
Police said the man began making remarks against the doctors and the need of social distancing as they approached the fruit stall. He also accused them of spreading the infection in residential areas.
This was the respect shown to women, that too doctors, by the tolerant Hindu. And this happened after PM Modi’s Appeal, and clapping, lighting the lamps etc, right in the capital.
Police said the doctors who were attacked were not on COVID-19 duty. Though those on such duty also can’t be treated like that.
Later, as the story drew media attention, police arrested the accused and a case under Sections 323 (hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or intent to outrage the modesty of a woman), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (words, gestures used to outrage the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against him.
Healthcare professionals in Delhi and elsewhere have been complaining that they were facing harassment with house owners asking them to vacate their rented accommodation besides facing harassment from locals.
Doctors have demanded deployment of paramilitary forces in hospitals while the Delhi government has sought police deployment in hospitals and quarantine centres to tackle unruly situations.
2) This is not an attack on doctors, but Covid-related: A 22-year-old youth, Dilshad Ali, who returned from a Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Madhya Pradesh, where he had gone 45 days ago to attend the same, was beaten up on April 5 Sunday in north Delhi, soon after he returned home from Bhopal. Ali was first stopped by authorities near Azadpur vegetable market and sent home after a medical examination cleared him. As he reached his home in Bawana, rumours started spreading that he was part of a conspiracy to spread COVID-19 in the village.This led to the attack on him, following which police rushed him to a hospital.
Three persons — Naveen, Prashant and Pramod — were arrested on charges of wrongful restraint, assault and criminal intimidation.Rumours continued. Police had to dismiss rumours that emerged saying he breathed his last. It was these rumour-mongers, and the media that promoted them, who are guilty of conspiracy. Though this was not on a doctor, such attacks connected with Covid, and misinformation against muslims – plenty of such reports can be cited – there was bad blood created that led to attacks on doctors etc.
3) The Indore incident that needs a detailed analysis.
The news of attack on a team of health workers in Indore’s Tatpatti Bakhal locality on April 1, went viral. They went there to screen patients in a locality in Indore, and faced a stone-pelting mob, suffering several injuries.It was a localituy where Muslims lived, and some were allegedly avoiding to go in for testing.
The news with visuals, shown in mainstream electronic media, in several languages, was viewed by crores of TV viewers across the country. Lakhs of viewers saw it on Youtube etc, and extensively tweeted, shared by various means. An ungrateful and wily community that attacked a team to help them fight disease; that is the tone of the reports.
The Hindu name of Dr Trupti Kataria was mentioned as part of the team attacked. The video clips showed a Muslim mob of around 100 people chasing health workers with sticks and stones.
Seven people , all Muslims, were arrested on April 2 in this connection. The Indore administration has evenslapped the National Security Act (NSA) against four of the accused. They have been identified as Md Mustafa, Md Gulrez, Shoaib and Majeed.
All kinds of adjectives were used about the brutal attack. This report was kept alive for days. But what happened the very next day was not shown, nor highlighted, by most of the media. Only a few reported.
Dr Trupti Katdare, who was pelted with stones by a mob in Indore, returned to the spot a day later, Apr 2, Thursday, to screen people for coronavirus, saying she wasn’t afraid, ThePrint reported on April 3: Another female doctor, Dr Zakia Sayed, who got injured in the attack, also went back to Tatpatti Bakhal to continue her Covid-19 duty, it reported.
This good news that happened the very next day was not highlighted.
This fact that there was a Muslim doctor , Dr Zakia Sayed, also was least reported in the original media stories that highlighted the Muslim mob.
And the team was received with great respect in the same area, by the same people, the next day.
indiatoday.in, April 6, 2020 reported:
“ A leading Muslim organisation in Indore has publicly apologised to all the people, including the doctors and nurses who came under attack, by publishing an apology in a newspaper on Monday.
The apology letter, printed by a Muslim organisation, addresses the doctors etc , and reads:
We do not have words so that we can apologise to you. Believe us, we are ashamed for that unpleasant incident …
The apology added : it “has happened due to rumours.” And explained it.
“You are the only people who stand as a wall for us in all our illnesses and in every difficulty. That is why, today, we sincerely want to apologise to all of you, please forgive us,” it read.
Residents of Taat Patti Bakhal in Indore apologising to a team of doctors after healthcare workers were attacked by locals, on April 2, 2020. (Photo: PTI)
Dr Katdare, was more objective and told ThePrint:
“We have been going to the area for the past 3-4 days and didn’t face any problem.
“On Wednesday, we got information that one of the residents had got in touch with someone, who tested positive for corona. We went and enquired about it. Although he was not there, we were chatting with his mother and when she told us she was diabetic, we told her to be more careful.”
The doctor said “all of a sudden a group of 100-200 people came running towards us and started throwing stones and were even hurling abuses.”
When asked if the residents cooperated with them Thursday when they went back to screen them, she said the residents are not at fault as some “anti-social elements had tried to mislead them”.
“They (residents) are innocent people. Our job is to carry out screening and survey the houses, which we will do to tackle coronavirus,” added Dr Katdare.
“We have sustained injuries but we have to do our job and will not be scared,” Dr. Zakia told ANI Friday : We can not afford to be scared.”
“We have to sensitise people and provide whatever medical care we can provide,” she said in a phone interview with India Today TV. “People are the sufferers and the coronavirus victims have to be identified.”
“Policemen and doctors are not just working against all odds, they are also bearing the brunt of people’s frustration,” said Superintendent of Police Bhupender Singh, who was more reasonable. The local administration and leaders including some of BJP did not try to play up the communal angle.
This Indore report has great value, with exemplary action of the medical team and self-critical behaviour of people. It would help tackle such situations better. It needed to be highlighted by the media, and the authorities, but few were keen on such a message.
In fact, a video clip showing the apology and doctors exonerating the people, was accompanied by reactions of viewers : 50 percent thumbs down! Obviously, they did not like the venomous propaganda being detoxified and neutralized. Such is the mindset of the desh bhakts, poisoned by vast sections of the media.
4) A story in contrast : Surat, Gujarat woman doctor attacked
A Surat doctor was physically attacked and verbally abused by her next-door neighbour on April 5 Sunday. The neighbour threatened to kick her out of her house as he believed that the doctor had novel coronavirus and she would spread it to the entire building.
The doctor, Dr Sanjivani, works at Surat Civil Hospital, where novel coronavirus patients are also treated. Even though Dr Sanjivani herself is not deployed in the Covid-19 ward, her neighbours have deemed her a threat to society.
“The hostility started on March 23, when the novel coronavirus outbreak registered in everybody’s mind due to lockdown. “I was stopped at the main gate and told by neighbours that I am on their hit list because I go to the hospital every day. This is not done, they said, if this continues, we will take action against you,” Dr Sanjivani told India Today TV.
At the time, she had resolved the problem by tweeting PM Narendra Modi about it. Her local MLA intervened and the neighbours calmed down.
Despite such high level intervention, the harasssment and abuse continued.
But on April 4, she said, her next-door neighbours stopped her at stairs and accused her of being Covid-19 positive. “He said that I have novel coronavirus and I will bring it inside the building. …The video that has gone viral is of the next day evening,” Dr Sanjivani said. The doctor said that she had tried to make her nieghbour understand that she just works in a hospital which also treats Covid-19 patients.
Dr. Sanjivani with her child. She appeared on TV to tell her story. Trouble continued even after she complained to the PM himself.
“On Apr 5 Sunday, when I was about to leave my house to take out my dog, the man’s wife started falsely accusing me that my dog has attacked her, so I started making the video. That’s when the husband started hurling abuses at me, he told him what if you are doctor, I will kick you out of the building,” the doctor said. The Indore people apologised the very next day, and cooperated. But in this incident, the abuse and harassment continued for more than 10 days!
Many channels did not report this aspect, more important, of the incident. Why?
Her neighbours, she said, lit lamps on Sunday and banged utensils on March 22, but felt no empathy for her. Dr Sanjivani said that she has a four-year-old son and she is constantly worried about his well-being and hence never risk bringing the virus back home with her. But she was harassed even after 10 days. It was not easy to trace the names of the culprits.
After the video of the attack went viral, Surat (Gujarat) Police detained the couple, identified as Chetan and Bhavna Mehta, for attacking the doctor, the doctor did not file a complaint even after the harassment continued. Perhaps she did not want to prolong her own harassment, which however continued.
“Since the victim was not ready to file an FIR,” said the police, “Adajan police took her application and arrested Chetan and Bhavna Mehta under section 151 of CrPC. “ Under this section, police may arrest a person without an order or warrant from a magistrate. And it is resorted to only when the police feel the offence can not be prevented otherwise : Here was a case where PM himself, and an MLA intervened, but the trouble continued.
But the police were not , they dare not be , harsh for the elite Hindu couple in Gujarat : “They will be produced in front of an executive magistrate who will grant them bail after obtaining an assurance of good behaviour,” said Surat Assistant Commissioner of Police PL Chaudhari.
But this story where an elite Hindu couple were the culprits, and repeated their offence, has no value for the biased media in Covid times.
It is not as if the couple were abnormal and eccentric : The doctor said
that even though only one of her neighbour has physically attacked her, the hostility is present in everyone :
“All my neighbours have the same sense of resentment, they all give me a hostile look. Although nobody has physically approached me since the March 23 incident the hostility is very much there. Nobody is happy that I am a doctor and I am working in a hospital where Covid-19 patients are being treated.
“These are the same people who used to call me in the middle of the night when they got sick and I would go and help. Right now, because of the corona thing they think I am going to infect them. There is absolutely no trust and of course no respect,” Dr Sanjivani said as she teared up on live TV.
This was not limited to Gujarat too. Similar incidents happened across India, and Doctors Associations had raised it too. There were incidents after the Ordinance too.
The Telangana High Court on April 24, after the ordinance, was hearing a PIL on the issue , reported Times of India: “CJ asked the police to file a fresh affidavit as he felt that though there are more number of attacks…the affidavit by TS Govt spoke only about four FIRs.” (TOI April 25.) This was after the Govt told the Court adequate polce were deployed in hospitals handling Covid cases.
That was how a woman and a doctor, was treated by so-called decent people, tolerant and considerate Hindus, not miscreants, and this after lighting the lamps, and Appeal by the PM himself, in his own home state.
The above story had lot of news value but no sensational value for the media.
5) Hyderabad Woman Doctor Assaulted By Police On Her Way To The Hospital.
This is a most shocking incident that happened in the heart of the state capital, underplayed if not almost blacked out in Hyderabad-based and Telugu media, normally hyper-active. Very few reported without exposing the gravity of the incident. The Hindu, for instance, reported it (March 24) from Khammam, and cited the name of the doctor, who alleged rude behaviour, verbal abuse, and “virtually being dragged” to the 2-town PS, “in the absence of women cops”, which is a violation. It reported police denied manhandling : The doctor decided not to file a complaint.
Dr. Himabindu (aged 30plus) received an urgent message from the Covid nodal hospital on March 23 Monday night asking her to come to work.. Telangana had by then 22 positive cases of COVID-19, and doctors without adequate protection were under great risk and stress.
What was never imagined was that a woman doctor would be stopped by police on her way to work, abused, assaulted, hauled into a police station, and then work a 12-hour-shift with bruises all over her body. She filed a complaint to the police, though not immediately, and went on TV too, narrating the details.
That was the very next day after PM Modi’s call for Janata curfew, and clapping by people hailing doctors’ services. CM KCR who had given a call for lockdown on 23rd, was also all praise for doctors.
At 8:45 p.m. that day – no public transport that day – she and a fellow doctor were making their way to the hospital on a scooter. That’s when they were stopped by the police.
“The officer on duty asked me why I was out during curfew, so I showed him my ID and explained that I was a doctor on my way to work,” she said. “He snatched my ID, looked at it and said : ‘But how do I know whether you’re a doctor or just going to meet some man at this time of the night?’
She asked the officer to return her ID. Simultaneously, she took out her phone and began trying to call the hospital for help. At this point, she said, the officer snatched her phone, slapped her across the face, and called her a “bloody bitch.”
“I was so shocked when he hit me that I hit him back, almost as a defensive reflex,” she said. “At that point …He grabbed my hair and dragged me into the Jeep, his fellow officers began hitting me across the thighs and legs with their batons. They groped me all over, including my private parts.”
The doctor and her colleague were then taken to a police station. According to Indian law, a woman can only be stopped and interrogated by the police if a woman police officer is present, and all police stations are required to have a woman police officer present on duty as well. But the station the doctors were taken to was full of men.
“When we tried to sit down, the police officer who had started the violence said, ‘Why are these women on chairs? Make them kneel on the ground,’ she said. “I was terrified of what was going to happen.”
Thankfully a Senior Officer came to their rescue who hears that lady doctors were brought to the police station. He asked the officer who had brought us there to apologize to the lady doctors and let them go. The officer apologized to the senior officer and did not even look at the doctors.
She and her friend, all bruised, went to the hospital and started working. After the end of the 12-hour shift, she narrated the incident to her sister, who was shocked that such a terrifying incident took place with her sister within a few minutes away from the hospital. She told BuzzFeed,“We are four siblings, all doctors. Our father is a policeman. Duty is something we take very seriously. I teared up in anger as she told me what happened to her.”
She was outraged by the act and narrated the incident to the HoD. They went to register an FIR against the officer and demanded CCTV footage of the areas where the incident took place. She told BuzzFeed that she was sure they would never get the footage. But the torment did not end there, as next day when she went to work with her sister, they had to face police officers and a senior administration who patronized them to take the complaint back.
They wanted to scrap the whole incident as a fight, which was a clear case of assault. They told her, “You will spend years in court. Her life will be ruined.’ They agreed to drop the charges if the officer apologised in front of the public and media, but even that did not happen, and all she got was a “sorry madam” in the end. (Apparently, they were coaxed into withdrawing the complaint, as per some reports.)
A few gave only scrappy, distorted reports on the incident, while buzzfeednews.com, which had a copy of her complaint gave a detailed report.
This is one incident that came to light because many pedestrians recorded the incident on their smartphones and uploaded it on social media. One remembers Disha case in Hyderabad.
6) Kolkata-based oncologist detained, and charged with causing communal disharmony
While defending the Ordinance, Govt. Assured comprehensive safety of doctors. But on March 28,(eight weeks after India’s first Covid case was reported in Kerala on Jan 30; by that time 10000 cases from 20 countries were reported) when Kolkata-based oncologist Indranil Khan (aged31) received images of doctors wearing raincoats in the COVID-19 ward of a government hospital, he shared them on Twitter. The next day, West Bengal authorities assured him of “immediate steps.” But within two hours of that assurance, Khan was detained by police for questioning.
“I was released the next day only after I posted on social media that the state government is working hard for doctors.” Later he was charged with causing communal disharmony and criminal intimidation, told Al Jazeera.
Khan moved a local court to contest the charges. The court observed that no government can intimidate doctors, even those who brought “disrepute” to it.
Recently, four doctors of New Delhi’s Hindu Rao Hospital bore the brunt of the authorities for highlighting the lack of PPE. The doctors were threatened with dismissal; details, theirs and whatsApp groups, were asked to be shared to police. Doctors across India have been reprimanded for highlighting the government’s inefficiency.
7) Chennai:doctor’s cremation opposed,hospital staff attacked
The Chennai incident went viral on April 22 , the day Home Minister Amit Shah was meeting IMA before the Ordinance was issued the same evening. Some misleading visuals were shown at the time. It was a shameful incident, that happened in the capital city, not in one place but two places, and despite police presence.
Dr Simon Hercules(55), managing director of the popular New Hope Hospital in in Kilpauk, Chennai, passed away on April 19 Sunday while undergoing treatment at a private hospital.
When the hospital staff, including a few doctor colleagues, tried to bury his body at the TP Chatram Burial Ground in Kilpauk, residents in the area opposed them fearing the virus would spread. They refused to budge even after police intervention. The hospital staff had then moved the body to Velangadu burial ground in Anna Nagar around 12:15 am but were met with similar faced protests from local residents.The team that organised last rites thus faced stiff resistance from residents of two Chennai localities, with some of them even assaulting the hospital staff.
Around 1:40 am, at last, one of the deceased doctor’s colleagues, with the help of police and hospital ward members, buried the body at Velangadu burial ground, in Anna Nagar.
(indianexpress.com, April 20)
Dr Simon Hercules(55) whose burial was prevented in Chennai.
Dr. Simon’s friend, Dr Pradeep, accompanied the family members in an ambulance to the burial ground in TB Chatram in Kilpauk. But before they set out, they were informed that the locals had gathered there in a bid to stop the burial. Rumours had been spread that the burial of the COVID-19 victim could lead to the further spread of the virus.
The family members took a detour to reach the burial ground where a JCB had already dug a six-feet deep grave. Even at the burial ground, Dr Pradeep said, a group of 50-60 people appeared there and started beating them.
“They began hitting us with wooden logs and throwing stones at us. They damaged the ambulance and hit the drivers on the head with logs. They hit the doctors and the sanitary inspectors as well. The deceased’s family was also not spared. The Corporation staff were forced to flee the spot,” the report quoted Dr Pradeep as saying.
The situation turned so ugly that family members and the drivers had to flee the spot. But Dr. Pradeep managed to get the body of Dr. Simon back into the ambulance with the help of drivers.
In Meghalaya last week, a senior doctor who had died of Coronavirus, was denied cremation, at an electric crematorium at Jhalupara, by the locals fearing it could pose health hazards in the locality. It was after more than 30 hours of the ordeal that the body of the veteran doctor was finally buried at Riatsamthiah Presbyterian Church cemetery at Lawmali in East Khasi Hills.
Chennai Police later arrested 20 people from Anna Nagar. Doctors’ associations requested the government to ensure people are made aware that the infection does not spread if the body is buried with due care and protocols.
Speaking to indianexpres.com, Tamil Nadu Government Doctor’s Association (TNGDA) secretary Dr N Ravishankar said this was the third such incident in Tamil Nadu. On April 13, a similar incident took place in Ambattur where a doctor who died in Nellore (AP) was denied cremation at the local crematorium as locals gathered in protest.A similar incident happened in Sirumugai in Coimbatore. A doctor died while working in a private hospital, another incident happened in Chennai a week ago, it was reported. .
This was the third such incident in Tamilnadu. It showed how even city people are misled and scared by rumours and scary reports.
The incident showed the deep-rooted and widespread backwardness of people, irrespective of religion, education and class. The assailants were not “miscreants”.
All these case studies –there are many more reported– show the dimensions of the problem. It is highly doubtful if the the Ordinance, of April 22, on punishing “miscreants” can resolve the problem. . Whether it would really put an end to attacks etc is to be seen in practice.