The Rajasthan government has launched a witch-hunt to arrest and intimidate the leaders of the doctors’ ongoing struggle in that state. On December 15-16 the police cracked down on doctors working in government run hospitals and health care centers in almost all towns and villages across the state. At least 60 doctors were reported to have been picked up from their residences and workplaces and arrested. Many other doctors have been forced to go into hiding to evade arrest.
The aim of this savage crackdown on the doctors of government medical institutions was to pre-empt the proposed strike by these doctors which was to begin on December 18. The Rajasthan government invoked the draconian Rajasthan Essential Services Maintenance Act (RESMA), 1970, declared the proposed strike illegal, and proceeded to arrest leaders of the All Rajasthan In-Service Doctors Association (ARISDA). Health services throughout the state, especially in the rural areas, have been severely affected as doctors have left their posts fearing arrest.
A video posted on social media by the ARISDA general secretary, who went underground following police raids, equates the Rajasthan government’s rule with the British rule and accuses it of imposing undeclared emergency.
According to the ARISDA President Dr Ajay Choudhary, the agitating doctors had sought an appointment with the Chief Minister to apprise her of their demands and problems. They had given time till December 18 for holding the talks, so that these could be held even as the doctors were working and patients would not suffer. But the government showed no response, forcing the doctors to go on strike.
Instead of resolving the grievances of the doctors, the state government has unleashed this brutal terror campaign, in an attempt to intimidate the ARISDA, which has been leading the struggle, and break the unity of the doctors.
The arrest of the doctors on the night of December 15 is being widely opposed. When doctors were arrested in Barmer, the chief medical and health officer and principal medical officer, together with other doctors, gathered outside the police station and protested against the manner in which police arrested the doctors while they were on duty. Doctors in rural areas boycotted duty on December 16.
Build-up to the present stage of struggle
The prolonged struggle of the doctors of government hospitals in Rajasthan has been in the news for some time now. Their entirely just demands include proper working conditions, adequate medical equipment and personnel, better living conditions and higher remuneration – demands which, if fulfilled, would lead to great improvement in the services in government run hospitals. Under the banner of the ARISDA the doctors have been waging innovative forms of protest, while continuing to serve patients. But the government’s adamant refusal to concede their demands forced them to go on a weeklong strike from November 6-12. The strike had ended with the government signing an agreement with the ARISDA to fulfill their 33 point charter of demands.
But it soon became clear that the Rajasthan government had no intention of implementing the agreement. It began violating the agreement, victimising the ARISDA and the doctors who had participated in the strike. It refused to withdraw the criminal cases against the leaders and the charge sheets issued against doctors who had boycotted training programs during the “non-cooperation movement”. On November 28, it announced the transfer of 12 leaders of the association.
Faced with these attacks, the ARISDA had announced that it would go on strike on December 18, if the government did not stop its victimization of doctors and continued to violate the agreement reached in November.
Support for the struggle
Doctors’ associations all over the country have come forward to support the struggle of the government doctors of Rajasthan.
The Jaipur Association of Resident Doctors (JARD) extended support to the doctors and threatened to go on indefinite strike, if repression of the doctors was not immediately halted and their demands promptly fulfilled. Resident doctors of Kota government hospital also warned that they would join the strike.
In Bharatpur, doctors protested by attending to patients on roadsides near Raj Bahadur Memorial Hospital. The PHCs and CHCs wore a deserted look in many districts.
The UP Provincial Medical Services Association (PMSA) extended support to the Rajasthan Government Doctors’ Association in their struggle.
The ARISDA president has cautioned the government that if the repression of the doctors continues, they will be forced to go on indefinite leave and the government would then be responsible for the problems the patients would face.
Lok Raj Sangathan supports the struggle of the doctors of government hospitals of Rajasthan and denounces the Rajasthan government for its attack on the striking doctors.