Doctors Battling COVID-19 in J&K Face Insults, Assault by Police

A senior surgeon was also stopped from crossing some checkpoints in Srinagar, despite having valid movement passes.

Updated
India
4 min read

Video Editor: Mohd. Ibrahim

A day ahead of Eid, on 23 May, Dr Shabir, a senior urologist, was returning home after finishing his duties at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, a tertiary-care facility in Srinagar run by the Jammu and Kashmir government.

In the afternoon, at the Budshah Bridge over Jhelum river, four cars were queued up ahead of Dr Shabir’s, at a checkpoint where security personnel were frisking commuters and checking their identity and movement papers.

From a distance, a policeman holding an automatic rifle signalled to him, to produce his identity papers. The doctor obliged but the cop, after confirming his identity, didn’t let him through.

“I told him I was going home after completing a 24-hour shift but he felt offended. Then, he craned in (through the window) to snatch the documents of my car. When I tried to stop him, he grabbed my index finger and twisted it so hard that I started to cry,” Dr Shabir told The Quint.

After letting go of his finger, the cop, Dr Shabir claimed, dragged him out of his car and manhandled him.

His car was also allegedly damaged by the policeman. “There are CCTV cameras all around. They can check the footage to find out what happened,” he said.

In the Line of Fire

Doctors and other healthcare professionals in Kashmir are facing insults, humiliation and sometimes verbal and physical abuse while being on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the official vehicle of the chief medical officer of Bandipora district, Dr Tajamul Hussain, was halted at around 11 pm close to his office. He was stopped from visiting a quarantine centre, despite having an official vehicle and valid movement papers.

“My driver showed the papers to the cop on duty but he didn’t oblige and threatened him to turn back. I got down from the vehicle and started screaming,” Dr Hussain said.

The incident, recorded on video by at least two bystanders, shows an agitated Dr Hussain shouting at the policeman who had stopped their car.

“Can’t you see it is the official vehicle of the chief medical officer? We put our lives at risk to save others but you only know how to harass doctors,” he yells, before the video comes to an abrupt end.

Dr Hussain told The Quint that it was only after the intervention of senior police officers and the District Magistrate that he was allowed to cross the checkpoint.

‘Barbed Wire Mentality’

On the same day that Dr Shabir was allegedly assaulted in Srinagar, a senior interventional cardiologist, with nearly two decades of experience, was allegedly badly beaten up by the station house officer of Zadibal police station in another part of the city.

“I only asked them to let me cross the checkpoint, as I was in a hurry. Instead, a policeman assaulted me with the butt of his rifle and threatened to strip me. They later hauled me off to the police station where I was detained for several hours,” Dr Syed Maqbool, who works at Super Speciality Hospital in Srinagar, said.

“I was on call and had to deal with all the emergencies. But, the station house officer replied that the patients and hospital can ‘go to hell’. He kept saying that doctors are good for nothing, that they are thieves who indulge only in selling duplicate medicines and taking commissions,” said Dr Maqbool.

According to a senior doctor at SKIMS hospital, there have been a number of incidents since the COVID-19 outbreak happened where, despite WHO guidelines to the contrary, healthcare professionals have found themselves stuck in the security gridlocks that have sprung up lately across the Valley.

On Saturday, a senior surgeon at a government-run hospital was stopped from crossing multiple checkpoints in Srinagar, despite having valid movement passes.

“It has become a routine for me now. For a journey of 20 minutes, it takes me nearly two hours to reach the hospital. There is no getting around the fact that police in J&K is designed to harass and hinder. The barbed wire is part of their psyche and the baton is their paintbrush,” the doctor said, wishing anonymity.

Missing Coordination

A senior official in the J&K government said the lack of coordination between the civil administration and security agencies has led to a spurt in the incidents where healthcare professionals have had to face the music.

“A uniform system would have ensured unhindered movement for healthcare and other employees involved in essential (Covid) duties. Even passes were issued but the admin was forced to cancel them twice as unauthorised people had laid hands on them. This is the administration’s failure,” the official said.

Director General of J&K Police, Dilbag Singh, said the police and civil administration is working in tandem to “facilitate and ensure” the hassle-free commute of healthcare professionals in Kashmir.

“We have advised our men on the ground to show regard and respect to doctors and others attending to call of their duties,” DGP Singh told The Quint.

A top meeting was held on Tuesday through video conferencing that was chaired by the IGP, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar. The meeting, according to sources, was held in the backdrop of two incidents involving Dr Hussain, the CMO of Bandipora, and Dr Maqbool, the cardiologist.

“Directions have been passed on to senior officers of all the districts to brief the ground staff and facilitate smooth movement of doctors and other healthcare workers in Kashmir,” IGP Kumar said.

State of Uncertainty

Doctors, however, are not sure if the situation is going to change in the coming days. “It ultimately depends on the mood of a cop on duty on a particular day. If you are lucky, they won’t even ask for your movement passes,” the doctor quoted above, said.

“But if Lady Luck is not on your side, you may well end up becoming a patient instead of treating the patients.”

On Tuesday afternoon, around the time when the three lady doctors were stopped near Srinagar’s Bakshi Stadium, dozens of doctors and other healthcare professionals staged a protest outside Srinagar’s Super Speciality Hospital as a mark of solidarity with their aggrieved colleagues.

“Dear patients, They may stop us, beat us, strip us, arrest us but we will always be there for you,” a placard held by one of the demonstrators, read.

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