Doctors taking out a rally in Jorhat, Assam

Tinsukia: The Indian Medical Association (IMA) Assam state branch has set a deadline of September 5 for Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (ABITA) to give it a written assurance on its security demand for doctors working in tea gardens, failing which it has threatened to withdraw all doctors from tea gardens located across Assam from September 6.

Among the demands include deployment of state-owned or professional security personnel in health establishments across tea estates by September 10 and installation of CCTVs at all vulnerable points in health establishments of all tea gardens before September 30. The IMA has also demanded that barracks for those security personnel to be made within the campus of the hospital or dispensary.

The letter written by the Indian Medical Association Assam state branch to Assam Branch Indian Tea Association on Sunday

The move comes following the brutal killing of Deben Dutta, a senior resident doctor, by workers of Teok tea estate in Assam’s Jorhat district on August 31. The lynching of the doctor created uproar across the state leading to demands for justice and security arrangements for doctors in tea estates. As of now, 36 persons have been arrested in connection with the assault and killing of Dr Dutta.

Talking to EastMojo, president of IMA state branch Dr Satyajit Borah said that their aim was to create a secure environment for doctors to serve the people of the tea community. “We have demanded the ABITA to deploy adequate security and surveillance cameras in all health establishments inside tea estates,” added Borah.

The doctors cannot work by keeping a security guard with them every moment. But deployment of security personnel will ensure timely safety of doctors and other health practitioners in such a situation. He said that in the present security scenario, doctors are ready to resign.

“In most sectors, including government sectors, there is a lack of doctors. Hence, jobs are not a concern for us,” Borah added.

The association has demanded state-owned or professional security personnel to be deployed in health establishments in all tea estates by September 10

Confirming receipt of letter, secretary of ABITA Abhijit Sharma said, “We have discussed among ourselves and various other tea bodies and will sit with IMA to chalk out a way ahead.”

In the meantime, the 24-hour strike of doctors called by IMA Assam state branch started from 6 am on September 3. The doctors have withdrawn all services for the next 24 hours, except emergencies.

On September 2, doctors s took rally at most parts of Jorhat in Assam demanding justice and security of doctors.

Letters to Prime Minister & Chief Minister

Copy of the letter to the Prime Minister

The IMA has also written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan after the gruesome killing of the veteran doctor on Saturday.

IMA Assam state branch president Borah said, “In the letter, we have underlined that the rate of punishment in [case of] assault on doctors is too low. Hence, we have demanded that justice be meted to the victims’ family in a speedy manner and preventive measures to be taken by Centre and state governments to ensure that Teok [tea estate] incident becomes the last one.”

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“The medical profession of the nation is aghast at the level of violence prevailing in the community against doctors. In June this year, the entire medical profession had risen as one across the nation seeking justice and security. Government of India is seized of legislating a central law against violence in healthcare institutions. Even such, a heavy deterrence may not work in such an atmosphere of mob violence. IMA also demands comprehensive response from the union government to eliminate violence in hospitals,” read the letter by IMA headquarters Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Copy of the letter to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal

Doctors’ resignations

Doctor Ripun Karmakar, a senior medical officer working at Hunwal tea estate in Assam’s Golaghat district, tendered his resignation on September 1, a day after the brutal killing of veteran doctor Deben Dutta by a mob in Jorhat district on Saturday.

Confirming his resignation, doctor Karmakar told EastMojo that he has submitted his resignation which is yet to be accepted by the management of the tea estate. “Perhaps, security is one of the reasons for my resignation,” said the doctor.

EastMojo has also come across another post on social media mentioning the resignation of Dr Ravi Baruah from a tea estate in Assam’s Dibrugarh district. However, EastMojo is yet to individually verify this particular report.

The recent assault and death of the senior doctor has imbibed a fear psychosis in the minds of the doctors in Assam tea gardens

Assault on doctors

The anger among doctors is a result of the frustration and pain that has crept in due to assault on them over the years, followed by empty promises and failed assurance of proper security arrangements and preventive measures across the nation.

The attacks and assault cases on doctors are not limited to tea estates. “Doctors are at the brunt of attendant’s anger at state-run hospitals, dispensary centres and private hospitals across the nation,” said Dr Sahd Ullah, secretary of IMA Jorhat chapter.

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The Teok incident is the latest to happen, out of several attacks that have happened on doctors in tea estates in the last few years, and perhaps the first case of death of a doctor arising out of such assault and mob lynching.

“We need protection and better infrastructure. Doctors save lives but get assaulted which cannot be accepted,” he added.

On May 6 this year, Dr Probin Chandra Thakur, the medical officer of Dikom Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district, who has been serving in the tea garden for over 30 years, was inhumanely manhandled by a mob of garden workers following the death of a woman worker during a severe thunderstorm.

“I was ‘almost’ dead. Lucky enough to return from the doors of death,” Dr Thakur, 65, told EastMojo while recounting the horror that took place just four months ago.

“I have moved on with physical injury but mental trauma will be there forever,” said Dr Thakur, adding: “Dr Dutta’s death has kind off shaken my soul and compelled me to think what am I doing here, knowing very well that doctors do not get real good pay in tea estates?” he added.

On December 3 last year, a senior resident doctor at the Hunwal Tea Estate in Golaghat district, Ripun Karmakar, was surrounded in his garden residence by a mob of more than 300 men. He was lucky enough to be rescued in time by police before he was physically man-handled.

Karmarkar told EastMojo, “On December 3, a patient was brought dead to the hospital. I asked the staff to follow the usual procedure. The next morning, my quarter was surrounded by garden workers who wanted to kill me. Police came in and rescued me.”

The list of violence goes on. While a doctor was assaulted in Sepon Tea Estate, another doctor was attacked at Tata Tea Referral Hospital in Chabua last year, besides other cases being reported at Bokakhat Tea Estate in Golaghat district and Khumtai Tea Estate, among others.

In 2015, a female paediatrician in the state-run Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital in Guwhati was also assaulted by relatives of a woman whose baby died soon after delivery. The doctors of the institute had protested against such violence even then.

There have been similar incidents on doctors at the civil hospital in Tinsukia following which a police outpost had to be opened inside the premises, and in Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh among others in Assam. Several such incidents have been reported from different parts of the country.

Teok Tea Estate put under lockdown

A few hours after the ill-fated incident, the Teok Tea Estate, owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited — a major tea producer of India — was put under lockdown.

In a notice put out by the company it said: “In view of the incident there have been total insecurity and chaos. All executives feel totally insecure as to life and property. In view of the threat to life and property, it would no longer be possible to run the estate under the provisions of the standing orders in force on this estate. Apprehending further danger to life and property, the management under compelling circumstances had to declare total lockout of the estate.”

History of violence and lockdowns in tea estates in Assam

Assault and violence in tea estate are not limited to doctors alone. The general managers, managers and other staff from administration of various gardens had been victims of such incidents in the past, compelling the management to put the tea estates under lockdown, until a “written assurance” from Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) — both unions of tea labourers — are secured.

On Aug 17, 2013, the management of Keyhung Tea Estate in Tinsukia district declared an indefinite lockout at the garden from the day following an attack on the general manager, acting manager and other staff by workers after a boy got electrocuted and died in the labour lines the previous evening. The garden management had to lodge an FIR at Bordubi police station.

In December 2011, an indefinite lockout was declared at Borhat tea estate where irate labourers had ransacked the bungalows of the manager and the doctor. The workers were angry over the death of a woman worker, who, they alleged, had died because of the management’s negligence.

Demand to implement Central Doctor’s Protection Act in all states

The Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association India (FORDA) has written to Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan demanding the implementation of Central Doctor’s Protection Act in all the states at the earliest.

In a letter dated September 2, 2019, it has been said, “This is to bring to your notice a very tragic incident occurred on 31st August, 2019 in Teok Tea Estate Hospital of Jorhat, Assam. A 73-year-old (late) Dr Deben Dutta who was serving voluntarily for patient welfare post retirement, was lynched by a mob following [the] death of a patient… This incident has shaken the whole medical fraternity of the country. This is one of the most unfortunate incidents of violence against doctors by patient’s attendants… This brings to fore our core demand for betterment of security of doctors all over tge country. It also highlights the necessity of implementation of the Central Doctor’s Protection Act in all states as early as possible.”

Doctors in Assam are protesting against this act of violence, and FORDA stands in support of protesting doctors and urge central and state government to meet their demands, said the letter signed by president of FORDA Dr Sumedh Sandanshiv, among others.

Lack of doctors in tea estate

The lack of doctors in tea estates is something that cannot be denied. Every now and then doctor vacancy advertisements are published by some or the other tea garden.

“Most of the tea estates are being served by older and retired doctors. Young doctors are not wanting to work in the tea estates as a result of mob violence history in garden. This has led to vacancy of doctors in tea estates, the percentage is shocking,” a senior medical office at a tea estate, who did not wish to be named, told EastMojo.

Empty promises, violence and anger

Repeated violence in tea garden on the managers and doctors on pretext of negligence has grabbed newspaper headlines over the years. But little has been achieved in terms of solution and concrete safety, mere empty and long unfulfilled promises by management of gardens and governments is the harsh reality.

Doctor Probin Chandra Thakur, a victim of mob violence in May this year at Dikom Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district, said, “My family does not want we to work in the tea estate any more, I am still serving the people of tea community as on date. I have to admit there is a fear psychosis which is only increasing with every dawn.”

“The society at large should respond immediately and play a crucial role or else the society and people of the tea community will be the sufferers,” he added.

Another doctor said, “We keep on hearing such incidents and then demands are raised and assurance given. However, very little had had happened. No concrete steps by garden management, government and slow rate of conviction has led to rise not just incidents, but also the intensity,” the doctor added.

Teok Tea Estate incident is a living example for all.

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