7 Years Jail For Attacking Health Workers: Is Fear the Only Way to Get Indians to Toe the Line?


7 Years Jail For Attacking Health Workers: Is Fear the Only Way to Get Indians to Toe the Line?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

India has been facing a rather distressing problem in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic – the very doctors and healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save patients are being attacked and beaten. To put an end to this menace, the Centre has brought in an ordinance to end violence against healthcare workers.

Stating that the attack on healthcare workers will not be tolerated, Union Minister Prakash Javdekar announced on Wednesday that the government has amended the Epidemics Diseases Act 1897 to make attack on healthcare workers a cognisable and punishable offence, up to five years of jail with a fine of ₹50,000 to ₹2 lakh. In case of severe injury, the jail term would be increased to anywhere between six months to seven years with a fine of ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh.

Hours after the announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the safety of our healthcare professionals cannot be compromised.

The decision comes after the Indian Medical Association demanded a law to protect doctors. As a “white alert”, the IMA had asked hospitals and medical staff across the country to light candles as a mark of protest. The IMA had also warned of observing “Black Day” on April 23 if no action was taken.

The IMA has withdrawn its two-day protest after a video conference with Home Minister Amit Shah and Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. A statement issued by IMA said, “Considering the immediate high-level response by the government and solid assurance given by the Home Minister himself, it has been decided that the white alert protest of 22nd and Black Day of 23rd stands withdrawn to maintain the unity and integrity of our country.”

The ordinance was the need of the hour, as the violence against doctors and other health professionals continues unabated. While everyone gathered at their balconies to clap and cheer for healthcare workers a month ago, the situation on the ground has been rather grim. The attack on a doctor in Nawabpura, Moradabad left the country in shock, as pictures of him bruised, beaten, and dripping in blood were shared across social media.

In yet another heartbreaking story, a surgeon in Chennai had to bury his colleague in the middle of the night on Sunday after a mob attacked their ambulance. The burial of Dr Simon Hercules, who died treating coronavirus patients, was stopped at two cemeteries. Dr Pradeep Kumar had to drive the ambulance himself to a crematorium after the drivers were beaten up and sustained injuries. Along with two ward boys, he quickly dug a grave and lowered Dr Hercules’s body in it. “There was just one shovel which I gave to one of the ward boys and two of us used our hands to fill the about 8-10 feet pit,” Dr Kumar said.

His wife has now appealed to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami for a decent burial of her husband’s body.

Meanwhile in Indore, which is now struggling to contain the pandemic, a mob threw stones at two women doctors wearing personal protective equipment. The doctors had gone to a densely-populated area to check on a woman suspected of having Covid-19.

Despite the attack, Dr Zakiya Sayed continued to carry on her duty. “We have sustained injuries but we have to do our job and will not be scared,” she said.

The attacks on medical staff, our only chance against the pandemic, are shocking and a tough law was the need of the hour. The medical community has welcomed the ordinance, saying it will boost the morale of healthcare workers and should be implemented even beyond the pandemic.

One hopes that the law will act as a deterrent and our corona warriors on the frontlines of the war against this pandemic will no longer have to worry about being beaten by the very people they have gone to treat.