Thursday witnessed the third day of the doctors’ strikes in the state which was triggered by an attack on Dr Paribaha Mukherjee, an intern at the Nil Ratan Sircar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital in state capital Kolkata. The attack left Dr Mukherjee with a depressive skull fracture and forced Dr Mukherjee’s admission to the intensive care unit (ICU). In the aftermath, incensed doctors said the state government was silent in the face of such assaults, which they said are increasing in number. This perceived inaction led to the strike.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee set a 2 p.m. deadline for striking medicos to return to work, threatening further action otherwise. She took the opportunity to blame her political rivals, calling the strike “a conspiracy by the CPM and the BJP”, whom she accused of having a “love affair”. She took aim at Minister for Home Affairs and BJP President Amit Shah, attributing the strike to his efforts to “[encourage] his party cadre to create communal tension.”
Addressing doctors at a hospital, Banerjee told doctors “you have to give service to the people. You cannot be a doctor without providing service to the people. Similarly, police cannot call for a strike. It is their duty.”
Banerjee’s political rivals have hit back, however. “It seems she is not at all interested in ending the impasse,” said CPM central committee member Sujan Chakraborty. Meanwhile, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh accused her of “not controlling or arresting the antisocial elements because they are her voters.” Eschewing politics, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, condemned the instigating incident. “Doctors are an integral pillar of the society and often work under stressful and difficult conditions,” he stated. “I urge the patients and their caregivers to observe restraint.”
The doctors remained defiant after the deadline expired. They are demanding armed police to man hospitals and now have the backing of doctors’ bodies including AIIMS resident doctors, who will boycott work although emergency health services will run as per usual. The Delhi Medical Association will also conduct a strike, whilst the Indian Medical Association is organising a national protest, stating in a notice delivered to its notices
“The gruesome incident in NRS Medical College, Kolkata is of barbaric nature. Dr Paribaha Mukharjee who was brutally attacked is critical and fighting for his life. IMA condemns the violence perpetrated on a young doctor. Entire medical fraternity expresses our solidarity with the Residents who are on strike….MA Headquarters hereby declares All India Protest Day on Friday 14.06.2019.”
India is no stranger to doctors’ strikes. Multiple Indian states were beset by strikes earlier this year. The effect of this instance of agitation and whether it will improve doctors’ working conditions and safety remains to be seen.