“We are doctors, don’t beat us,” cried two junior resident doctors of AIIMS, Bhopal, as the police thrashed them with batons while they returned home after performing emergency duties.
Doctors like you are spreading the coronavirus. Do doctors roam around like this in the first place? You are a disgrace to the country! - two policemen, patrolling the Bag Sevania area, hurled the remarks at them.
The identity cards around their necks, the hospital’s stickers on their scooter were ignored. Their appeals - “we are doctors, let us go”, went unheard. Around 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday, one of the policemen stopped their vehicle, smashed the milk packets they carried on the road, and landed batons on them. The woman, 27, received injuries on one foot, whereas the man, 31, who had raised one arm to protect against a blow from top, suffered soft tissue swelling with contused abrasions on the arm, which had to be wrapped in a PoP cast later.
“More than the physical trauma, it is more of a mental one,” she said. “At a time when doctors are risking their lives for others, this is what they get in return. Sometimes, the common man hits us, but the police, who are supposed to save us, did it this time. Who do we trust?” she asked.
At a time when COVID-19 cases are spiralling in Bhopal, which has reported 75 fresh cases in the past five days, different hospital departments are teaming up to cater to a steady stream of incoming patients. Even students of the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department, including the two doctors, are posted in isolation wards to take up COVID-19 duties on rotation.
As the two doctors didn’t wear facemasks, the policemen told them they were a threat to society. “Such derogatory remarks, without knowing anything. Don’t they see it when we wear PPE kits while on duty? And they are teaching us to wear masks? They were so aggressive that we felt they would kill us,” she said. “If doctors stop working after such situations, imagine what would happen to healthcare at this point.”
Back on duty
Her parents back in West Bengal, who’re already tensed about the COVID-19 duty, asked her to go on a day’s leave on Thursday to get back her peace of mind. As did her professors, as she had suffered injuries. But gathering herself together the next day on Thursday, she reported for duty. “It was getting unnerving for me using the social media sitting at home. I had to return to work,” she said.
Like each time, the students were confident showing their IDs would give them pass through the lockdown. “If such an incident could happen right outside my college, it could happen to me somewhere else too,” she said. “Everyone is scared now. If they say doctors can’t step outside when the COVID-19 spread is picking up, should I ask them why policemen are roaming outside too?”
Shocked and scared
The harrowing incident has left doctors at the AIIMS both shocked and scared. One of her batchmates, who is on the isolation ward’s night duty roster the next week, is tensed about travelling to hospital, 9 km away from home, now. “I will totally not step out of the car when they ask for my ID. Will it even be safe to travel alone in the first place?” she asked.
During a pandemic like this, everyone, especially lawmakers, should keep their calm, she added. “Also, compared to the COVID-19, a lathicharge seems less of a threat. And I picked this profession by choice, and it comes with great responsibility. We have to work,” she said.
Bhopal South Superintendent of Police Sai Krishna Thota said, “We have initiated a departmental inquiry against the policemen, with one constable being line-attached. There was a market operating illegally near the spot, so they were returning after removing that, when the incident took place.
Meanwhile, the AIIMS Resident Doctors’ Association condemned the incident and informed The Hindu the police had assured them tht strict action would be taken against the policemen within 24 hours of the incident. The hospital administration, however, hasn’t pressed charges.