Medical colleges in the Indian city of Calcutta are imparting training in self defense - especially karate and taekwondo - to budding doctors to help them cope with the rising new tide of violence directed at unarmed medical practitioners.
Newspapers in Calcutta, capital of West Bengal state, are full of horror stories of patients’ relatives ransacking hospitals - including government clinics - and assaulting doctors and nurses at will accusing them of medical negligence and worse. Doctors concede that there are some black sheep in the medical fraternity but are extremely resentful of being typecast as blood suckers and angry at the administration for not providing adequate protection.
By Calcutta standards, there was nothing unusual about the March 21 attack on Flemming Hospital in East Tospsia in broad daylight. A patient’s death triggered the no-holds-barred violence locals resorted to alleging lack of treatment and over-billing. Not content with smashing glass panes and furniture, they mercilessly thrashed Dr Sumit Mondal and a para-medic before the police arrived and dispersed the law-breakers.
Since 2016 countless hospitals have been targeted and doctors assaulted, compelling both government-run and private medical colleges to include self-defense classes in their curriculum. Calcutta’s flagship Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College & Hospital has hired South Korea-trained taekwondo expert, Pradipto Kumar Roy, to impart rigorous training to Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) batches in view of the grim prevailing situation.
Roy is assisted by the hospital’s deputy superintendent, Dwaipayan Biswas, a keen taekwondo enthusiast. According to media reports, the self-defense lessons are very popular among would-be doctors who gleefully quip that as they are in the business of saving lives, they must first learn how to save their own life!
Ajay Biswas, an orthopedic surgeon, told Al Arabiya: “We are sitting ducks for angry patients and their relatives who are often associated with the dominant local political group. Moreover, powerful ministers and top government officials keep saying publicly that nursing homes, especially privately owned, are essentially money-making machines. This lop-sided narrative is fueling attacks and heightening the vulnerability of doctors and nurses who have no one to turn to.”
West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, a hugely popular politician by any yardstick, recently said: “We condemn vandalism in hospitals, provided those hospitals are serving the people and are not resorting to unscrupulous methods to book profits at any cost.” Banerjee has named and shamed some of Calcutta’s top private hospitals leaving their CEOs red-faced and jittery.
Doctors are not being spared in Delhi and Mumbai too. Physicians at the country’s premier hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), have struck work and wore helmets to work to highlight the threats they face daily. They even demanded deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) platoons in AIIMS but the federal government said no.
A recently conducted survey at the capital’s Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) revealed that every second doctor has been subjected to violence. Summing up the dangerous situation, MAMC Resident Doctors ‘Association general secretary, Vinod Rai, says: “It’s very humiliating to be verbally abused or beaten up for no fault of ours. Why are we thrashed if there is no ICU bed for a critically ill patient?”