The chain of events that have been initiated in West Bengal since Monday night is truly unprecedented in the recent history of the state. After doctors and interns at the NRS Medical College and hospital in Kolkata were attacked following the death of Mohammed Sayeed, an old man who is claimed to have died of natural causes, doctors across the state shut down services in a protest demanding adequate security and immediate action against perpetrators.
And as fate would have it since the protests began, attacks against doctors have further escalated and mobs have attacked students and interns at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital as well. In the incident at Burdwan, the involvement of local goons was strongly suspected by the besieged doctors.
The matter has not remained confined to Burdwan and the NRS Hospital alone. On Wednesday night, the Calcutta National Medical College was attacked by unidentified goons and two rooms in one of the hostels were burnt down. Allegedly, Kerosene bombs were used to achieve the desired purpose. We were told by a postgraduate doctor at the institution, “Two rooms were set on fire, they were totally burnt. The Police came later and have shut down the rooms for now for further investigation. The rooms were in the Linton hostel which is for junior doctors and students.”
Photographs of the charred rooms have flooded social media again and members of the fraternity are quite anguished. It is of grave concern that protests which were initiated with a demand to ensure that these incidents never occur again have only led to a situation where medical institutions across the state are being attacked.
Mamata Banerjee, for her part, has done very little to assuage the concerns of the medical community. Instead, she has politicized the entire accused it to be a conspiracy by her political opponents. “The government will not take any responsibility of those who would not do so (join duty). They will also have to vacate the hostels (if they don’t join work),” the chief minister told the media. “The state spends Rs 25 lakh on each doctor and then they shirk work. This won’t be tolerated. Are they doctors!” she said.
Distressingly, Banerjee accused the doctors of being “outsiders”. Drawing a rather bewildering analogy with the Police, she stated, “They are outsiders. The government will not support them in any way. I condemn doctors who have gone on strike. Policemen die in the line of duty but the police don’t go on a strike.”
“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. It is unfortunate that the BJP and CPI(M) are doing politics here. They are playing Hindu-Muslim card here. Health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya met junior doctors on Wednesday and requested them to speak to me. I was holding the call but they just refused to talk to me over phone,” she added while accusing her political opponents of playing divisive politics.
While CPIM found mention as she addressed the media, Mamata Banerjee told India Today TV that the protests were a BJP conspiracy. During the early phases of her tenure as Chief Minister, she often blamed Maoists when questions were raised about the policies of her government. With the saffron surge in Bengal, it appears that it is now the BJP’s turn to be blamed.
Mamata Banerjee’s remarks have only aggravated the concerns of the medical fraternity. There was already a great sense of fear with the attacks on medical institutions at various place, now after her statements, their fears have only been heightened.
“We are planning to evacuate the hostels. She (Banerjee) told us that we should, therefore we are planning to move out,” the postgraduate doctor at CNMC told OpIndia.com. “Many of us come from far off places, we are not sure where we will go. A lot of our friends at the institution are from Kolkata, so maybe we will take refuge at their place for a while. We are not sure.”
A junior doctor from Kolkata Medical College (KMC) told us, “She is behaving like a mad dictator. She hasn’t even made any assurances and she’s threatening us! She is not even trying to address what went wrong and what we experienced. Yet she expects us to work. If she cannot ensure the safety of the government employees, why should they work under her?” There were significant threats to doctors and interns at the KMC on Tuesday night and more specifically, to the girls’ hostel by unidentified people, OpIndia.com was told.
The prevailing sentiment is that the demands were not out of order. “We made legitimate demands, we only wanted more security and punishment for the perpetrators of the attack. When such mobs attack, it’s not only the doctors and interns who suffer. The other patients are affected as well because we can’t treat them properly with such a huge crowd present at the scene,” we were told.
The junior doctor from KMC told us, “All of us are just disgusted. We feel it’s just not worth it to work under an unreasonable mad dictator who doesn’t even bother to address our concerns.”
A doctor at an esteemed private medical institution, who was present at the protests at the NRS hospital on Tuesday, told OpIndia.com, “There is universal incredulity at the statements of the Chief Minister. The attempts to portray this as a political protest and use that excuse to deny justice to the assaulted doctors are being seen by everyone as unacceptable. There is the talk of plans for mass resignations from various quarters.”
We have heard of Hospital Staff offering their resignations from various other sources as well. Presently, we cannot confirm or deny these claims. We will update our readers when we have more information regarding the same.
People who are not associated with the medical fraternity as well are quite angry with Mamata Banerjee’s threats. A former student of Calcutta University told us, “She (Banerjee) doesn’t deserve to be the Chief Minister anymore. Instead of punishing the culprits and providing security to the doctors, she is threatening them. What kind of nonsense is this? Instead of fulfilling the legitimate demands, she is busy playing politics over it.”
From the turn of events, it certainly appears that Mamata Banerjee has turned it into a political battle rather than as a case of apolitical dissatisfaction with the administration over the lack of security to the medical fraternity. In doing so, she has further agitated the medical fraternity and only aggravated their fears and anguish. It has turned into genuine resentment and anger.
The unintended victims of the state government’s apathy are the patients who are unable to receive the treatment necessary and their families who are unable to meet their wards. From Banerjee’s remarks, there appears to be a concerted attempt to manipulate public sentiment and turn them against the doctors and interns and deflect attention from her own government’s incompetence. A sinister game is being played here and the consequences of it could be devastating.
The medical fraternity feels that the media is in Trinamool’s pockets. We were told that ABP Ananda had falsely claimed that emergency services at the SSKM Hospital were resumed only after Banerjee’s threat when in reality it was already active even before she reached the place. There was also the sentiment that the media is not covering the issue fairly and an active participant in turning public sentiment against the medical fraternity.
The general sentiment is that the state government is trying to intimidate the medical fraternity into resuming normal services without making any assurances regarding their security. A genuine animosity has developed under these circumstances. The state government can still resolve the matter if it chooses to but it appears Mamata Banerjee is in no mood to relent.
Mamata Banerjee’s threat to the medical fraternity and the angst and fears of the latter should ideally have dominated news cycles. However, it appears national media is least bothered about the entire matter. None of the mainstream media outlets has reported on the matter in detail. This could very well turn out to be Mamata Banerjee’s Singur moment and the mainstream media appears to be either sleeping or providing cover to the state government’s incompetence.