Why allopathic doctors are on a pan-India hunger strike

Allopathic doctors across the country have been on a relay hunger strike since the past two weeks to protest the central government notification regarding surgical training for postgraduate students of Ayurveda and have resorted to legal and political recourse for its rollback.

The protest came in response to the rules, introduced in November 2020, which enable provision of training for Ayurveda practitioners to perform surgical procedures. The notification specifies 58 procedures surgeries, including orthopaedics, ophthalmology, ENT, removal of benign tumours and cataract operations etc.

The protesting doctors have strongly objected to mixing of modern medicine with AYUSH and are of the view that Ayurveda practitioners should not be allowed to carry out complicated surgeries that take years to learn. They also emphasised that the Ayurvedic medical colleges are not fully equipped for surgical training.

The Indian Medical Association is at the forefront of the fight. It had launched a two-week nationwide hunger strike on February 1. The strike is the latest of several protests against the notification, including a day-long closure of all non-emergency services on December 11, 2020. IMA doctors had staged the first protest on December 8.

“We have taken three steps to register our protest: by educating the general public as it directly effects them, approaching the Supreme Court and reaching out to the Members of Parliament,” said Dr. Kunal Juneja, Spokesperson of Indian Medical Association.

This protest will conclude on February 14 but, Dr. Juneja said: Abhi toh yeh angadyi hai, aage badi ladayi hai (this was just a small awakening; we have a big fight ahead). “These fourteen days were an alarm for the government. We have won it partially in courts. We will make sure the notification is rolled back.”

Dr. Juneja, who is also a medico-social activist, termed their protest as a people’s movement, contending that the notification not only concerns the medical fraternity but the general public. He said that medical students, junior doctors and delegation from Resident Doctors’ Assocation across the country are protesting against the same.

Dr Parul Vadgama, who joined the protest in Delhi from Gujarat, said that citizens have the basic right to good health. She agreed that the implementation of new rule will help address shortage of surgeons in India, but said that it will dilute the quality of surgeons.

“This will also confuse the citizens because they would not know where to go. If we do not focus on the quality of treatment, India’s name will go down globally in the next ten years. Not only that, there will be increase in mortality of patients. We must make people aware about the issue,” Vadgama said.

To spread awareness, protesting doctors distributed pamphlets to people on the traffic signal at ITO area in Delhi on Saturday. The delegation also spoke to shopkeepers in the area. The people were asked if they would ever opt to be operated upon by an Ayurvedic surgeon, to which they said no.

One of the senior citizens sitting outside a clock-fixing shop said, “If I have any issue related to my knees, I will obviously go to the orthopedic doctor and not the Ayurvedic doctor.” Another said, “The patient will face the consequences if they go to the Ayurvedic doctor. I will only go to the one who is more experienced in the field.”

IMA national president J.A. Jayalal had earlier said that the doctors will strive hard to maintain the purity of the medical profession. “Each stream of medicine has its own individuality but the Centre is trying to promote mixopathy.”

Notably, a survey conducted in December last year had revealed that the citizens are divided over central government’s decision, with 47 per cent of citizens said in support, while 43 per cent not in its support. But, interestingly, only 14 per cent said that they are willing to go to an AYUSH dentist for tooth extraction or RCT.

(Aakanksha Khajuria can be contacted at aakanksha.k@ians.in)