NEW DELHI • Services in scores of hospitals across India were disrupted yesterday as thousands of doctors and medical students launched fresh protests against a government move to reserve more places in colleges for the disadvantaged.
Hundreds of patients milled around hospitals for treatment, some of them exposed to the blistering sun.
The protests, which began last month, have intensified as the Congress-led government has refused to back off from a plan to raise the quota for lower castes in universities, engineering and medical colleges.
“God created us equal, don’t categorise us,” read a banner put up by mainly upper caste interns, who wore black badges, in the Capital.
A similar government decision in 1990 to reserve more jobs for lower castes led to nation-wide demonstrations and dozens of upper caste students died after setting fire to themselves.
Passions over the latest quota move were further stoked after TV showed police beating protesting medical students with canes in the financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, provoking senior doctors at private and state-run hospitals to join the campaign.
“I was very upset and shocked at the police action,” said Dr Ajit Mann Singh, a Delhi-based surgeon, adding he did not mind losing a day’s earnings to join the protest.
“This strike is totally justified,” he said.
In Mumbai, over a 1,000 medical students and interns, shouting slogans like “Down with the police”, assembled in a public ground to protest the police cane charge.
Police vehicles mounted with water cannons stood by. But no violence was reported. Protests were also reported in cities in the western state of Gujarat.
A senior police inspector has been placed under suspension in connection with the police action on medical students agitating against quota hike at Walkeshwar in Mumbai on Saturday.
Orders relating to the suspension of S Sankhe, Senior Police Inspector of the Malabar Hill police station, were issued yesterday, Mumbai police commissioner A N Roy said.
IMA yesterday demanded judicial probe within 48 hours and said it would approach the National Human Rights Commission on the issue of police excesses on medicos.
“The government should order a judicial probe within 48 hours. We will be approaching the National Human Rights Commission also,” IMA, Mumbai Chapter President Dr Sunita Kshirsagar said.
Acknowledging that excessive force was used by police against striking medicos, Maharashtra government had ordered an inquiry into the cane-charge on agitating students outside Raj Bhawan on Saturday.
Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy was asked by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh yesterday to conduct the probe and submit a report within a week.
“From the visuals we have seen on TV screens, it looks like excessive force was used against the agitating students,” the Chief Minister said.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) yesterday said only the reservation policy could uplift the backward communities even as it condemned the “brutal” police action on the students agitating against a proposal to increase quotas.
“Let the government hold discussions on various other options including increasing the number of seats to provide reservation to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes (OBCs),” CPM leader Mohammed Salim told reporters here.
“We do not support the brutal police action on the students. The government should address their concerns too,” Salim said at a press conference that was also attended by Basudev Acharya, CPM leader in the Lok Sabha. The communists also came down heavily on “the mainstream media” for playing up the issue. “By whipping up emotions clandestinely among the students’ community, you cannot stop reservations,” Salim said.
“We cannot deny reservations to the weaker sections as the country has witnessed casteism for thousands of years. Steps have to be taken to uplift backward sections. All political parties have agreed to go by the constitution and its provisions in this regard.”
“We request the students not to fall prey to such a campaign (against the reservation policy),” he said.
The CPM, which supports Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government from outside, asked it to initiate a dialogue with the agitating students.
Medical services in major hospitals across Madhya Pradesh were badly hit yesterday as junior doctors went on a token strike in support of the nationwide protest against a proposed reservation move.
Major hospitals in Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur and Rewa saw their services crippled with patients running helter-skelter as the doctors struck work urging political parties to make their stand clear on the proposed reservation. Emergency services, however, remained unaffected.
Doctors took out rallies and burnt effigies of Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh over the proposed 27 per cent reservation for other backward classes in institutions of higher education.
In Bhopal, around 250 undergraduates took out a peace march from Bhopal’s Gandhi Medical College and handed over to the district magistrate a memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, said Ravi, one of the protesters.
“We also gave a memorandum to Governor Balram Jhakar’s aide who asked us to come and discuss the matter on Tuesday,” he said, adding, that they had got support of the Private Medical Practitioners Association. Medical services were hit hard in the Government Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal and relatives of seriously ill patients were seen narrating their woes before the journalists.
“I arrived here this morning for the treatment of my brother who is suffering from severe stomach ache but the doctors have asked me to come later. Where should I go now?” asked Ramesh Baghel, who has a betel nut shop in the neighbouring Sehore town.
“My child fell while playing and is not able to walk for the past two days. I was advised to take him to Hamidia Hospital to get proper treatment. But I think I will have to go back without any treatment,” said Hemlata, who came for treatment from nearby Berasia village.
Junior doctors stopped attending to patients since yesterday morning and later staged a demonstration outside the hospital and the medical college against Arjun Singh. They were joined by over 100 students from the Private Medical College and Peoples Dental College. The striking students said they would step up their agitation if the government fails to withdraw the quota hike.
Some slammed the government for a “divide and rule” policy.
“The government is hell-bent on balkanising the country (over caste),” Sanjeev Chhiber, a consultant surgeon, said at a rally attended by dozens of doctors and medical students in New Delhi.
Supporters of quotas say the government move is necessary as lower castes — who have traditionally had fewer opportunities for quality education — need the state’s help to enter top educational institutions. They say the admission process for medical, management and engineering institutions favour the more advantaged upper castes.