I am appalled at the way the Bombay High Court on Tuesday came down on resident doctors who decided to depart on a mass leave, following the horrific episodes of violence against doctors we’ve seen in the last few days. Let me quote Chief Justice Manjula Chellur as she responded to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the mass exodus of doctors which has admittedly paralyzed the civic health services in Maharashtra:
“It is a shame on the profession; if doctors go on strike like factory men, then they are unfit to be doctors.”
Now, I doubt if I am meant to be startled at this, considering the plethora of farcical judgements and hearings we’ve received from our judiciary in recent times: right from the decision of preposterously acquitting a well known actor to coercively imposing some twisted version of patriotism upon people. What unhinges me is the sheer sense of irresponsibility this statement emanates. The utter callousness reflecting in this statement instils a serious doubt in my mind as to whether it was made in a sound state.
I don’t understand the sense behind the mention of factory workers. Whether it abases them or not, it seriously implies that the right to strike is reserved with a certain section of our people. Do only factory workers have to right to strike? If a factory worker can rightfully go on a strike on account of not being paid a wage, think of how rightful it is for doctors to strike when their lives are endangered at their workplace. This statement not only plays down the gravity of the situation, but is also a straight out defiance of a doctor’s right to life.
It has been our inveterate tendency as a society to view the medical profession through rose tinted glasses and impose lofty moral standards on doctors. An institution as exalted as a court, however, is expected to be able to comprehend doctors as ‘professionals’ who come under the same terms of professionalism as other professionals. However, every time doctors quit work to express their grievances, we see our courts and powers resort to the moral weapon with terms like ‘shame’ to quell them back into their job. Words like ‘shame’ and discourses on morals are better left to informal dealings and should never be the approach of formal public institutions as courts. Unfortunately, this realisation doesn’t seem to have surfaced their minds yet. Moreover, even from a moral standpoint, is it really a shame upon anybody if they quit their duty because they fear death?
The most outrageous aspect of it all is the labelling of such attacks on doctors as a natural ‘consequence’ of their work. Coming from an exalted civic professional whom others look up to, it’s scary for me to even imagine what this portends for a democracy like ours. We have always known our judiciary’s perpetual failure to deliver – it’s failure to think up before making statements looks like a recently acquired trait.
Our people of law, for some weird reason, believe that they can be comfortably judgemental of anybody on account of their education, even if what or whom they judge falls far outside of their fief. The same seems to be the case here as they deem protesting doctors to be unfit for the profession. I don’t understand how knowledge of law can make someone the supreme arbitrator of who deserves what; however, the outrageously careless statement indeed raises a question mark on the prudence of our lawmen.
Such a statement, and especially such a stern stance of our judiciary in the face of desperation, is a typical example of how our powers deal with those sections of our society which, though highly important to the country, do not constitute a vote bank. It is easy to understand that the intent behind this statement was to somehow prod resident doctors to resume their duties, while placing the blame on them at the same time. It’s high time our powers grow up to the reality that the country lodges legions of men who can see right through their rhetoric and are ever ready to eat into their words.
The responsibilities of our powers and judiciary go much beyond than simply framing and following laws – it is their duty to carefully sculpt mass sentiments through their statements and actively deter episodes which are detrimental to the welfare of the state. However, the tumbledown judiciary of this country seems to have grown so myopic that it fails to appreciate the downward course the medical profession has taken recently. The medical profession has already incurred an amount of irreversible damage in the last few weeks. Resident doctors are the new breed of malcontents moving around with deep seated rancour in their minds. If our powers don’t come out of their illness, the entire country, including doctors, shall fall ill soon – this time irreversibly!
The writer, Dr Soham D Bhaduri, is a medical doctor and philosophy of mind enthusiast, and takes keen interest in topics pertaining to mental health and medical education. He blogs at The Free-Thinking Medic.