Calcutta doctors attacked, BJP leader blames a particular community

The attack triggered a chain shutdown of healthcare services in medical colleges across Bengal

By TT Bureau in Calcutta
  • Published 12.06.19, 5:35 AM
  • Updated 12.06.19, 8:38 AM
  • 3 mins read
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A woman whose relative is admitted at NRS Medical College and Hospital tries to force her way in as protesters block the main entrance. She had stepped out to buy food for her relative. Unable to gain entry through this gate, she moved away in search of another entrance Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha

A brutal assault on doctors at NRS Medical College and Hospital after the death of a septuagenarian patient triggered a chain shutdown of healthcare services in medical colleges across Bengal and a politician sought to inject an inflammatory, if not downright communal, narrative into a condemnable act of thuggery.

NRS virtually closed down on Tuesday after doctors said they were beaten by a group of about 200 men who came on trucks on Monday night when the 75-year-old patient, Mohammad Sayeed, passed away at the hospital.

Two junior doctors are now in hospital with head injuries. Hit by possibly a brick or a coconut, Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, one of the two junior doctors, suffered a deep dent in the skull, suggests a CT scan image uploaded by some doctors.

Their colleagues in other government hospitals too stopped work in protest, which crippled patient services at medical college hospitals in Bengal. The CPM-backed Service Doctors Forum has called for a shutdown of outpatient departments at all private and government hospitals on Wednesday to protest the attack on junior doctors at NRS.

The doctors have listed several demands, including the personal intervention of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, action against police for allegedly dragging their feet and steps to ensure the safety of doctors in hospitals.

It was a matter of time before the attack on doctors got entangled with the ongoing politics of polarisation in Bengal.

Senior BJP leader Mukul Roy, who visited NRS along with party MP Locket Chatterjee and promised to stand by the agitating junior doctors, said at the party headquarters before the trip: “Ekta bishesh sampradayer lokjon hamla chaliyechhe. Tara Trinamul korey… ei hamlay Trinamul jorito. Ar akranto, chikitsak Paribaha Mukherjee (People of a particular community carried out the attack. They belong to Trinamul, which is involved in this attack. And the doctor who has been attacked is Paribaha Mukherjee).”

Later, asked why he was weaving a communal narrative to an incident, Roy said: “Such attack on Mukherjee and his colleagues cannot be taken in a simple way. It is a planned move by a particular community and the ruling party patronised the attackers.”

The sweeping, if not irresponsible, comment overshadowed another factor underscored by Roy that had a ring of validity. Roy criticised the chief minister for not visiting the wounded doctor and pacifying his colleagues.

Mamata — whose skills at controlling explosive situations have been on display more than once, especially on the day 93 people were killed in the fire at AMRI Hospitals in Dhakuria in 2011 — had not publicly met the NRS doctors till Tuesday night.

Santanu Sen, Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP, national president of the Indian Medical Association and state secretary of the Trinamul doctors’ cell, went to NRS in the evening. “Doctors should not inconvenience patients, many of whom come to government hospitals in a critical state. I have told the agitating doctors that they should write to the chief minister about their demands,” he said.

Echoing Mukul Roy, Vivekananda Majumder, convener of the BJP’s doctors’ cell, said anti-socials from Picnic Garden came on two trucks to NRS and attacked the junior doctors. “It has become a trend to attack doctors in Bengal and it was planned by hooligans belonging to a particular community,” said Majumder, a private practitioner in gynaecology.

Such a statement conveniently glosses over the demographic distribution in Calcutta near government hospitals and the economic realities that compel the poor to rely on state-run hospitals. There is little to suggest that one community or the other responds with vandalism when the medical outcomes do not meet their expectations.

The incendiary claims suggest the BJP is using polarisation, the same tactic that yielded huge dividends in the Lok Sabha polls, in an attempt to break the Trinamul hegemony among doctors in the state.

With the change of guard in Bengal in 2011, the Trinamul doctors’ association became powerful among the medical practitioners in government hospitals with party leaders like Nirmal Maji and Sen calling the shots.

Junior doctors are known to be the backbone of government medical colleges, assisting seniors in outpatient departments, emergency wards and indoors and also preparing medical reports of patients.

Trinamul’s grip over this large section is waning, said some of the leaders of the ongoing agitation.

“Most of the junior doctors are unhappy with the highhandedness of the senior doctor leaders of Trinamul. They are also unhappy with the government over issues like forcing them to sign bonds after passing their MBBS,” said a leader. “Today, we wanted them to withdraw the agitation, but no one is listening to us,” he said.

The CPM, which once held sway over doctors in Bengal, tried to make its voice heard. “The police will investigate the case and find out what happened…. But it is certain that the attack was pre-planned as truckloads of hooligans were assembled and brought to the campus to attack the junior doctors,” said CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty, who visited the hospital with party leaders like Fuad Halim, who is a doctor.