STATEMENT BY MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS RAISING QUESTIONS TO IMA
The National President and Honorary Secretary General of Indian Medical Association (IMA), on behalf of its 2.6 lakh members, have written a letter to Home Minister Shri Raj Nath Singh condemning the ‘anti-national’ incident that had taken place recently at JNU. The office bearers have appealed to the government to take strict and necessary action against any persons or organizations or group carrying out any ‘anti-national’ protests, speeches, debates or writings in the country. They have also appealed to the government that investigations should be fair and free and the culprits be punished as early as possible as per the law so that in future no one can dare to do ‘anti-national’ activities in the country. The office-bearers have extended their whole-hearted support to the government in this matter, again, on behalf of it 2.6 lakh members. As per the statement of IMA’s Honorary Secretary General published in The Hindu on 24th February 2016, this letter is also an intervention to tell medical students, nursing students etc. that ‘anti-national’ activities will not be tolerated and that such ‘anti-national’ incidents should be curbed and not debated upon.
For anybody who may be unaware of the ‘anti-national’ incident at JNU being referred to in the above-mentioned letter, here is a description:
On 9th February 2016, a group of JNU students organised a cultural evening of protest with poets, artists, singers, writers, students, intellectuals, cultural activists. It was titled ‘Country without a Post Office’ and the poster publicising the event mentioned ‘against the Brahminical Collective Consciousness, against judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqool Bhatt, in solidarity with the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination’. The posters were displayed across the campus few days prior to the event, and necessary permission for organizing this event was taken from appropriate authorities. Few minutes prior to the commencement of the program, the organizers were told that the permission has been cancelled. It was apparent that the cancellation of permission has been effected by a right-wing student’s party. Consequently, the organizer sought support from other student parties aligned with left-wing ideology. With crowd from both ideological poles around, the scheduled event was held. During this event, and especially towards its end, slogans related to following issues were shouted (as per the videos shown by various news channels): freedom from social evils like poverty, hunger, patriarchy, feudalism, brahminism; right to self determination of Kashmiri people; innocence of Afzal Guru. JNU students can be identified shouting these slogans. Some of the videos flashed on national media also show pro-Pakistan and anti-India sloganeering by people who can’t be clearly identified. Police was present on-campus during this event and was a witness to this event, but no complaint was formally registered. This event was then subjected to media trial, followed by a formal police complaint and arrest of the President of JNU Students Union.
Discussing complex social and political issues which don’t have clear and obvious answers has been a tradition in JNU. Taking things at their face value, accepting the obvious and getting swayed by rhetoric is not what Universities stand for. It is vital for a university to have a culture of questioning, fearless expression of opinions and respect for dissent. These attributes are expected to be the foundation of any institution meant for training young minds to learn and generate knowledge that is of value to human society. However, the issues discussed and opinions articulated, both within the classroom and outside, may sometimes surprise and even shock people who are new to the disciplines of social sciences and humanities. That is exactly where Doctors are, in general, located. But then, this is not the issue under immediate focus. Let’s return to the IMA’s letter in question.
IMA, in its white paper on Dr. Ketan Desai, mentions that he has to be taken as innocent until and unless he is proved to be guilty and convicted for the same. Then how do the office bearers of IMA label the incident in JNU as ‘anti-national’ when the matter is still sub-judice? Delhi Police, and Ministry of Home Affairs which regulate it, have come under severe criticism for mis-handling the JNU incident and the events that followed it. The key evidence, available in form videos aired by some news channels, is itself under suspicion of being fabricated. There is a huge legal debate over whether the charges applied on the students actually hold ground even if the controversial slogans had been shouted by them. Why then did the office bearers of IMA chose to take sides in this issue? Is that how ‘scientific’ people act? Did this stand serve any ‘national’ interest?
Moreover, does the above-mentioned letter really reflect the opinion of 2.6 lakh members of IMA as it claims to? It is difficult to believe that such a large number of well-informed people, spread across a country as diverse as India, can share a common ideological stand on such an issue. It is only in matters related to bio-medical ethics, international humanitarian laws and conventions – which are binding on all doctors – that the office bearers can take the opinion of individual members as granted. One doesn’t have to deliberate on the subject of medical neutrality in times of war or conflict. But if even the State branches of IMA are not consulted on issues like the one in question, it appears to be a grim reflection of the generalized and widespread attempts to shrink democratic spaces.
What is even more distressing is the assertion by IMA office-bearers that no ‘anti-national’ discussions or debates will be tolerated in medical colleges. Nationalism is something that develops at the level of consciousness. Different people have different ways of internalizing and expressing their relationship and allegiance to their country. In absence of a standard definition of nationalism, anything and everything can be labeled as ‘anti-national’. If a medical student from Kashmir or Nagaland talks about the impact of continuous presence of army on civilian life, or, if a medical student from Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand talks about the relative lack of public services in tribal belts, s/he may be termed anti-national. So, the diktat seems to be not to discuss anything at all.
Medical students and doctors are a part of general society, and they share the diversity that exists around them. If this diversity of culture, and that of opinion, is not expressed and discussed, one may never learn to respect it. It is this freedom (‘aazaadi’) for which Nobel laureates and academicians across the world are concerned, and it is as much relevant to medical colleges as it is to any university anywhere. JNU is only a reference case.
The irresponsible behavior of a section of media, police and State in this incident needs no further mention. What makes one really apprehensive is the way members of professional groups are increasingly reacting, and taking sides. The hooliganism displayed by a group of Lawyers in Patiala House Court is a dark testimony to this. The way office-bearers of IMA have reacted, adds to the gloom. We, the undersigned, strongly condemn their stand and the un-democratic process they used to arrive at it.
|1||Ayanava Basu||Surveillance Medical Officer||National Polio Surveillance Project, West Bengal|
|2||Debadutta Parija||Medical Officer||Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND)|
|3||Dhiren Modi||Community Health Physician||Sewa Rural, Jhagadia|
|4||Imrana Qadeer||Senior Fellow||Council for Social Development|
|5||Jayanta K Das||Visiting Dermatologist||RK Mission Seva Pratisthan, Kolkata|
|6||Jayesh Khaddar||M. Phil. Student||Centre for Law and Governance, JNU|
|7||Jnan Sil||West Bengal|
|8||KM Shyamaprasad||Chancellor||Martin Luther Christian University, Meghalaya|
|9||Mohan Rao||Professor||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|10||Mohd. Shaffi||Assistant Professor||Global Institute of Public Health, Thiruvananthapuram|
|11||Mohit P. Gandhi||PhD Student||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|12||Naresh Potter||Advisor, National TB Control Program||Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia|
|13||Prabir Chatterjee||Medico Friends Circle|
|14||Prachin Ghodajkar||Assistant Professor||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|15||Priyanka Roy||PhD Student||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|16||Punyabrata Gun||Shramjibi Swathya Udyog, Chengail|
|17||Purvi Verma||MPH Student||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|18||Rakesh Parashar||State Team Lead (HP)||RMNCHA – IPE Global|
|19||Ritu Priya Mehrotra||Professor||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|20||Ruma Das||PhD Student||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|21||Sachin Arora||Deputy Medical Superintendent||Batra Hospital, New Delhi|
|22||Sanjib Mukopadhyay||IMA Kolkata Branch|
|23||Sayan Das||MPH Student||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
|24||Shah Alam Khan||Professor||Department of Orthopedics, AIIMS, New Delhi|
|25||Shamim Manan||Medical Consultant||WHO-RNTCP Technical Assistance Project, Central TB Division|
|26||Siddhartha Yadav||PG Student (Orthopedics)||DY Patil Medical College, Mumbai|
|27||Sumitran Basu||PhD Student||School of Social Sciences, JNU|
|28||Vikas Bajpai||Assistant Professor||Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU|
(as on 16/03/2016)