Drawing a line

Impeding the work of healthcare providers by violence is a crime against humanity

The reports that in many cases the victims of violence in Delhi were not allowed to reach hospitals are very disturbing. Even worse, the ambulances were stopped and searched by the police and patients' dressings removed while on the way to healthcare facilities. This is against all the norms and forms of justice to the sick and patients' rights. A doctor was not able to shift the patent to the higher centre because of mob violence. When he tried to contact the police officials, none of them picked his phone. The police officials contacted the doctor only after the intervention by the high court at midnight.

Health is the biggest victim during the conditions of violence. This has been observed in different parts of our country recently as well globally. There are reports of 53 people dying in hospitals. Over 450 are reported to be injured. From a visit to the affected area it was found that the number of the injured could be much higher as only the serious patients reach the hospitals. Patients with minor to moderate injuries did not go to the hospital. Many have not even ventured to come out to go to the medical personnel because of fear of violence. Several civil society groups are organising medical camps. Besides common ailments and injuries, a large number of people suffer from mental health problems.

Any kind of violence is an issue of serious concern for public health. Violence committed by a group of people in the name of ethnicity, religion, caste, creed, pseudo nationalism, beliefs can cause collateral damage including social disharmony and instability. Mob lynching set off by social media is a relatively new phenomenon. A systematic hate campaign is launched to poison the mindset. When the state becomes the perpetrator, the situation becomes even graver.

The violence of the scale that occurred in Delhi is not only shocking but also a warning to set things right immediately. The affected area has never witnessed communal frenzy.

The present events reflect ideology of the perpetrators and intentional failure of law enforcing agencies that are directly under the Minister of Home Affairs. In 1984, the capital had witnessed similar violence unleashed on innocent people. No lessons seem to have been learnt from that.

Even now little is being done for relief and rehabilitation work. Delhi as a capital city has adequate infrastructure. The violence-affected areas were a very small part of the total area of Delhi. Reaching out to any place in the city is not exactly difficult. Then why this apathetic attitude towards medical relief and rehabilitation work? Denial of healthcare either by act of commission or omission is a crime. Health is recognised as an important human right.

It is important that after such harsh violence, the feelings of affected people are assuaged. They need a lot of empathy and support. This is unfortunately missing in Delhi. The Central government has been perceived as a perpetrator of violence because of utterances by their senior leaders that incited unrest. None of them had the courtesy to visit the areas affected by violence to date. It is however intriguing as to why the recently elected Delhi government kept mum and took no steps to stop this.

Health can form a bridge of peace. Advocates argue that negotiations around healthcare delivery cultivate informal channels of communication that can contribute indirectly and directly to the peaceful settlement and confidence building. Such activities can change the dynamics of the situation.

Even though, both state and non-state providers have a duty to provide healthcare impartially and equitably as stated in medical ethics and international law, the State has a primary responsibility to deliver healthcare to affected populations. This is a legal duty.

Continuous hate campaigns can have a serious effect by polarising the population in which even doctors can get carried away. That at several places people from different communities saved each other is a positive reflection of human behaviour which we must carry forward.

Views expressed are strictly personal

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