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A fatal cure

india Updated: Apr 27, 2009 23:21 IST

Been thinking of doctors of late. First, some budding doctors at a medical college in Tanda, Himachal Pradesh. In the middle of learning about anatomy and disease and healing and whatever else prospective doctors study, these young men took a break. I mean, sure, all hard-working students need a break every now and then, why not these guys?

So they took a break and set out to rag some freshers in their college. As part of this noble, time-honoured tradition, they beat up one of those freshers: Aman Kachroo, who wanted to be a doctor one day. Instead, he ended up a victim of four young men — Ajay Verma, Abhinav Verma, Naveen Verma and Mukul Sharma — who ostensibly wanted to be doctors too. Instead, Aman ended up dead.

It’s a tragic, nauseating story. Ragging like this is horrible enough; but somehow ragging like this by boys who plan to be doctors is both nauseating and frightening. What kind of care for the health and well-being of a patient can you expect from a doctor who, as a student, thrashed juniors purely for being junior?

Put it this way: would you go to a doctor if you knew he had beaten up freshers? Maybe killed one?

Second, a gynaecologist in Gujarat. In the middle of attending to her patients sometime in early 2002, this doctor took a break too. Why not, again? If she’s like most doctors in our cities, she was probably flooded with patients. Besides, she was also a people’s representative at the time, a legislator, and we know how busy those folks can be. No doubt she needed to get away from it all. Recharge her batteries, a good idea.

So yes, she took a break. She led a shouting, angry mob to the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gram areas of Ahmedabad, only a kilometre or so from her gynaecological clinic. Reports say she distributed swords to men in the mob and harangued them into action. There was action all right: with those swords, the mob butchered nearly one hundred people.

Carnage finished, the doctor returned to her clinic to resume work. A few years later, she became her state’s Minister for Women and Child Development. As Minister, she kept up her gynaecological practice.

Leading a murderous mob is horrible enough; but somehow knowing that it was a gynaecologist who did it is, again, nauseating and frightening. A news report captures some of that sense of wonder: “On the one hand she helps bring in new life into the world, and on the other, she is arrested for inciting and arming a communal mob that slaughtered and burnt alive 98 people.” What care for the health of women can you expect from Dr Maya Kodnani, who distributed swords to a mob intent on massacre?

Put it this way: if you were a pregnant woman, would you go to such a doctor?

Third, there’s a doctor in Raipur. A gold medallist paediatrician from one of our finest medical colleges, Vellore’s Christian Medical College, he could have picked a lucrative career anywhere in the country, indeed anywhere in the world. Instead he chose to work in rural India, taking health care to some of India’s most forgotten people.

In doing so, he began to understand the processes that keep them forgotten, and to realise that he had to speak out about that. Because he took a stand against pervasive injustice and neglect, he was arrested and jailed in Chhattisgarh. He was branded with the term that even sceptics are strangely unwilling to question — ‘Naxalite’.

Next month will mark two years that Dr Binayak Sen has been in prison. Two years, during which a doctor who spurred on murderers in Ahmedabad practiced gynaecology, during which some would-be doctors in Himachal Pradesh beat a junior to death. Two years that an outstanding son of India has languished in jail for reasons that would be laughable if they were not so tragic. So: Doctors on your mind too? Whom would you go to?

Dilip D’Souza is a Mumbai-based writer and journalist