Doctors’ strike in Bengal intensifies, but Mamata remains defiant 

Published : June 13, 2019 20:24 IST

The junior doctors’ strike in West Bengal intensified on June 13, with even senior doctors and nurses joining the movement across the State, further crippling medical services. What could have easily been resolved with a simple assurance from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now snowballed into a national issue owing to the latter’s intransigence, with medical institutions across the country voicing solidarity with the agitating doctors.

The doctors’ strike was triggered off on June 11, after a brutal attack on junior doctors of the State-run Nil Ratan Sarkar (NRS) hospital following the death of a 75-year-old patient, Mohammad Sayeed. An altercation between Sayeed’s family members and the doctors soon spiralled out of control with more than 150 miscreants arriving in trucks and bikes and wreaking havoc at NRS. One of the doctors, Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, suffered a skull fracture and had to undergo surgery. Soon all other medical colleges in the State joined the protest. This latest act of violence at the NRS was perhaps the last straw, as for several years West Bengal has been witnessing repeated attacks on doctors, with hardly any steps being taken by the government to provide adequate security to them.

Mamata’s initial silence and the apparent apathy of the government to pay heed to the demand of providing security to doctors further exacerbated an already volatile situation. “Our place is with the patients. We were forced to come to this situation because of the attitude of the government,” said a senior doctor.

At the Sagar Dutta Medical College, 18 doctors resigned on June 13. One of the reasons they gave was that they feared for their lives, as there was not adequate security to protect them.

When the Chief Minister finally reacted on June 13, it was with the customary belligerence with which she meets any opposition. She threatened the doctors with “stern action”, set ultimatums and called the agitating doctors “outsiders”. Her outburst did little to soothe the frayed nerves or allay the fears of the doctors; instead, it seemed to have further steeled their resolve to carry on with the protest. “A little tact from her would have ended this. But she came and threatened us and called us ‘outsiders’,” said a junior doctor. The doctors have now also demanded an unconditional apology from the Chief Minister.

The doctors maintain that, contrary to Mamata’s allegation that the agitation was orchestrated by the BJP, theirs is a completely apolitical movement. While visiting outpatients at the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) hospital, Mamata said, “Those who voted for the BJP here are now beginning to see what mistake they have committed. The BJP is not even allowing treatment to take place.”

Causing further embarrassment to Mamata Banerjee and the State government, Shabba Hakim, daughter of Cabinet Minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim, lashed out against the government on social media. “Please question the government as in why the police officers posted in government hospitals do little or nothing to protect doctors? Please question them that when 2 truckload of goon showed up why wasn’t back up sent immediately? Please question why goons are still surrounding hospitals and beating up doctors? … as a TMC supporter I am deeply ashamed at the inaction and the silence of our leader,” she wrote.

On June 13, the ruling party began to try other means to break the strike. It mobilised its workers to stage a counter agitation outside the gates of the hospitals; and, allegedly goons armed with hockey sticks attacked the doctors once again at the NRS. The protesting doctors have alleged that the attack was led by local Trinamool leaders.

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