As lifesavers, the practitioners of modern medicine have ample opportunities to showcase their inherent love for their fellow citizens. As true lovers of our nation, our doctors can work overtime and remain sleepless for days at a stretch in times of calamity. They can choose to treat poor patients free, or at concessional rates, and can prescribe the cheapest quality generic drug options available. They can reduce the financial burden of hapless patients by not opting for any cosmetic or non-essential diagnostic tests or procedures. They can urge their professional bodies to not endorse any commercial products, and can remain ethical by simply refusing to accept expensive gifts or foreign tour offers from pharmaceutical companies where there is a clear conflict of interest. Even a smile which greets every patient irrespective of gender, wealth, social status, religion, caste and creed differences can make a doctor, not only a true nationalist who imbibes the spirit of unity in diversity, but also a wonderful human being. A good number of our doctors do so.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), the lobby group that represents the country's modern medicine practitioners has found an easy way to prove its nationalist credentials. On August 19, IMA shot a letter to Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of renowned medical journal Lancet to question the "credibility and malafide intention" behind an "uncalled" editorial. What enraged IMA was an opinion piece titled "fear and uncertainty around Kashmir's future" that appeared in Lancet two days ago. IMA felt that Lancet had "committed breach of propriety" by commenting on an issue that Indian government considers as "an internal matter". The letter accused Lancet of reacting "to an internal administrative decision of government of India under the garb of concern for the health of Kashmiris". "Lancet has no locus standii on the issue of Kashmir," the letter said.
IMA's valour would have been timely and appropriate if Lancet had indeed questioned the decision of the government of India. True, the journal talks about the withdrawal of the "autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing India greater authority over the state's affairs", but its editorial comment is not about the decision, but health, safety and freedom concerns of the people of Kashmir due to the lockdown that followed the decision. It quotes two reports - by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Medecins Sans Frontieres - to state that the people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The editorial acknowledges Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurance that the decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir, but goes on to say that the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation. Lancet editorial calls for an end to violence and alienation, nothing beyond that. It doesn't question the decision of Indian government to reduce the autonomy, but is merely expressing concern over the post-decision situation that will harm the health and mental peace of Indian citizens living in the curfew hit areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is not the first time Lancet is talking about conditions where there is human misery. The same issue also has an editorial that comments on the impact of mass shootings in the USA. "The epicentre of nearly every mass shooting in the USA is a man. In the forensic unpacking, the shared characteristics of shooters-misogyny, alienation, and hate-emerge. Angry and socially disengaged, he finds solace in racist or extremist ideologies online," the editorial says. Lancet has also courted controversies in the past including an article on the drug resistant "super bugs" of India that had seen some heated responses from this part of the world.
IMA has every right to respond the way it deems fit, though there are umpteen numbers of ways to prove the patriotism of medical fraternity. People of Kashmir and the security forces who are posted there at the moment are both Indian citizens. Any move to offer voluntary medical services to them to ensure their psychological and physical wellbeing will perhaps be the most befitting reply to Lancet.