Doctors, Beaten and Harassed, Plan Silent Protest Across India

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced an executive order to ensure the safety of medical staff after they threatened to protest against rising incidences of violence over fears doctors are spreading the deadly coronavirus.

Cabinet on Wednesday amended laws to convert such violent acts into non-bailable offenses and provide compensation for injury or loss to property. Prison terms range from three months to seven years and fines from 50,000 rupees ($650) to 500,000 rupees. The government will also complete investigations into attacks on health-care professionals within 30 days.

The Indian Medical Association had earlier asked its members to light candles and mark a silent protest at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, a stark parallel to Modi’s own exercise a few days earlier, when he urged Indians to light lamps to honor and support doctors. The plan was withdrawn after Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s confidante, appealed to the IMA not to hold even a symbolic protest and assured them of safety and support.

While a backlash against doctors has been seen from Australia to the Philippines, it’s proving more widespread and intense in India. In a country where trust in the health-care system was already low and misinformation on social media is rampant, tensions are mounting as the strictly enforced 40-day lockdown drags on.

Indian doctors over recent weeks have endured campaigns from their neighbors to force them out of apartment buildings, been attacked by a mob while tracing contacts of a coronavirus case through the slums and have been stopped by police and beaten with batons on the way back home from an emergency shift.

The final straw was an attack on a convoy carrying the body of a doctor who died of Covid-19. Local media published reports on how his family and friends were attacked by mobs wielding sticks and stones as they tried to bury him and his colleagues broke down on TV as they narrated the ordeal.

“IMA has maintained utmost restraint and patience inspite of extreme provocation,” the IMA had previously said, while calling for the protest. “If dignity is denied even in death, our patience and restraint lose their value.”

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