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Activists want lady doctors for female inmates of prisons, Bombay HC says only if need genuine

While observing that “there is no requirement of law that lady inmates cannot be treated by male doctors,” the Bombay high court (HC) has asked the state government to consider sending female doctors to such prisons after it was informed that some of these prisoners were not comfortable sharing their problems with male doctors
By KAY Dodhiya, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUN 13, 2021 11:37 PM IST

While observing that “there is no requirement of law that lady inmates cannot be treated by male doctors,” the Bombay high court (HC) has asked the state government to consider sending female doctors to such prisons after it was informed that some of these prisoners were not comfortable sharing their problems with male doctors. Prof Vijay Raghavan from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) who is assisting the HC in the suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) pertaining to the increase in death of prison inmates due to the second wave of Covid, sought visitation of female doctors on rotation basis said that he is only stressing on implementing the 2017 prison reforms wherein the health department has been asked to have a panel of female doctors to visit women’s prisons regularly.

On June 10, the division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni while hearing the PIL was informed by Prof Raghavan of four major issues that were faced by jail inmates with regards to the availability of treatment and medical facilities in the jails across the state.

Prof Raghavan pointed out that there was a shortage of doctors and paramedical staff in jails due to which inmates had to be taken to hospitals. He further stated that the unavailability of police escorts to take inmates to hospitals for treatment was delayed. He also added that apart from this there was also the issue of assigning female doctors for treating inmates of women’s prisons. In light of this, he sought regular visit of a female doctor from a civil hospital for inmates of women’s prisons.

After perusing the compilation prepared by Dr Chhering Dorje, special inspector general of police (prisons), south region and hearing the submissions of advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni which assured the court of improvement in the condition of inmates as vaccination of inmates with and without comorbidities had started and many vacant posts of doctors and paramedical staff had been filled up, the court said that the schedule of MBBS doctors who would visit prisons on all seven days mentioned in the compilation would suffice to treat ailing patients.

While addressing the issue raised by Prof Raghavan regarding lady doctors the court said, “There is no requirement of law that lady inmates cannot be treated by male doctors. However, we observe that if for any special reason a female inmate wishes to be attended by a female doctor and the prison authority is convinced that the request is genuine, the due requisition may be sent by the prison authorities to the health department for doing the needful.”

Prof Raghavan while clarifying his request said, “I was only asking for implementation of the justice (retired) Dr S Radhakrishnan committee report on prison reforms. The committee had recommended that a panel of five doctors which included a gynaecologist and paediatrician should visit the prisons once a week for two hours. However, based on the HC directions the state has decided to send an MBBS doctor every day is also commendable.”

He, however, added that the issue of lady doctors was something which inmates themselves sought as many of them were not comfortable while disclosing and discussing their medical problems with male doctors. “We have not come across any instance of lady doctors being uncomfortable while doing duty in prisons. On the contrary male doctors are hesitant to treat female inmates so much so that if there are complications they refer the inmate to a civil hospital rather than treating the inmate themselves,” said Prof Raghavan.

Dr Dorje and Pradeep Vyas, the secretary health department did not respond to calls and messages for a comment on the issue.

When asked about the observation of HC regarding there was ‘no requirement of law that lady inmates cannot be treated by male doctors’ activist and advocate Abha Singh said, “Lady doctors for female prisoners would be covered by article 21 of the Constitution on right to life which also envisages a right to live with dignity. If a woman inmate wants a female doctor and it is also observed that these inmates are more comfortable discussing their health issues with female doctors, then why should necessary amendments not be made in the law to make it into a requirement.”

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