In June doctors across India protested a brutal attack on one of their colleagues by the relatives of a patient who died during treatment in West Bengal. It was a foreboding prelude to the Aug. 31 death of 73-year-old physician Deben Dutta at Teok Tea Estate.
Dr. Deben Dutta, who was born and worked his entire life at Teok estate, was at home when a grievously injured worker was taken to the clinic around 3 p.m. Dutta arrived within 10-15 minutes but the worker, Shri Somra Majhi, died, leading to angry shouts from family members that attracted a crowd.
A video widely distributed via social media shows Dutta bleeding as he attempts to quell a rock-throwing crowd that blocked ambulance staff. He was rescued by paramilitary police but succumbed in transit to Jorhat Medical College, the nearest local hospital. An indefinite lockout at the garden, one of several administered by Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd. (APPL), an ancillary of Tata Global Beverages.
The nation reacted in outrage. Dutta’s death is the latest of six recent incidents, mainly in Assam, involving assaults on medical staff. The Assam government decided to fast-track the court to try the case following the arrest of 21 workers.
The violence comes amid rising tension over wages and objections by planters to pay the maximum annual bonus prior to the Durga Puja celebrations that begin in October. The Union Health Ministry subsequently proposed legislation mandating imprisonment and hefty fines for assaulting health services personnel. This week, the state government in Assam agreed to a full 20% bonus for workers.
Aparajita Dutta, wife of the deceased, wrote prime minister Shri Narendra Modi that her husband was “entirely innocent and there was no negligence on his part in treating the demised patient.” She cited the “failure of the police and other security forces in handling the angry mob resulting to the death of our beloved family member.”
“The miscreants present in the crowd not only hit the retired doctor with blows and kicks, but they also stabbed him repeatedly with glass shreds from broken windowpanes. One of the miscreants in fact used a shred of broken glass to tear the trouser and cut the blood vessels in the right leg of the victim,” she wrote.
In May 2019 Dr. Probin Chandra Thakur, the medical officer at Dikom Tea Estate suffered broken bones and fractured ribs after he was brutally assaulted by a group of garden workers following the death of a woman he was treating. Early this month Dr. Mridusmita, the resident doctor at Dihing Tea Estate, was also attacked by a violent tea garden mob. Safety concerns subsequently led seven tea garden doctors to resign.
PK Bhattacharjee, secretary-general of the India Tea Association said, “This incident and another assault on a medical officer in Dikom Tea Estate have shaken the morale of tea garden executives, not to speak of medical officers working in the plantations, many of whom have resigned since Dr. Dutta’s death.”
Existing laws to prevent violence and damage to property are not a deterrent against such attacks, he said.
Doctors nationwide called a 24-hour strike on Sept. 3 to protest the assault. The proposed legislation prompted doctors, pharmacists, and para-medical staff and their supporters to march in the streets of Jorhat.
The legislation proposes a 10-year jail term and fines of INR10 lakh ($15,000) for those found guilty of attacking doctors, hospital facilities and health care professionals.
“In the emotionally surcharged atmosphere of losing a loved one, it is the healthcare providers who get to bear the brunt of the bereaved relatives’ misplaced anger,” writes The Tribune. “It is a much-needed safeguard for medical professionals, who, shaken by rising incidents of assault on doctors and vandalising of hospitals/clinics, have had to strike work in their quest for protection of law.”
The India Medical Association found that more than 75% of doctors across the country have been threatened in violent situations of which 50% took place in the Intensive Care Unit of hospitals. In 70% of cases the relatives of patients were actively involved.