Of late the country has been outraged by shameful and highly condemnable life threatening attack, in some parts of India, on doctors, nurses and health care staff treating COVID patients. Even a doctor in Tamil Nadu did not get a dignified burial after losing life following infection from a corona patient being treated by him. In Gujarat a man who clapped in response to the call of Prime Minister of India to express solidarity with medical personnel on duty to fight corona threat intimidated a lady doctor in his neighbourhood and asked her to keep away from her apartment just because she was working in a hospital where COVID patients are being treated.
Honouring Doctors and Health Care Personnel as Martyrs for their Supreme Sacrifice Redefines Patriotism
Such ill treatment of doctors and health care staff has compounded their woes which originally has been caused by alarming inadequacy of personal protective equipments, N95 masks and other materials to safeguard them from highly infectious corona virus. In such a disheartening atmosphere Odisha Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik made a historic announcement on 21st April 2020 that if doctors and health care professionals of both public and private medical institutes of the State make supreme sacrifices by laying down their lives, while treating COVID patients, they would be hailed as martyrs and would get State funeral with full State honours. Such a pronouncement is the first of its kind in our country made by any leader and it boosted the spirit of doctors and health care staff in Odisha where there is not a single instance of assault on them. Even earlier he had released three months of advance pay to doctors and health care staff of the Government deployed to treat COBID affected people.
While declaring that deceased doctors would be accorded the status of martyrs he also added that such deceased doctors and health care personnel would get an ex gratia amount Rs. 50 lakhs each in convergence with the initiative of the Union Government in this regard and families of those Government personnel (medical and others) would continue to get full salary till the date of their retirement.
In a video message, the Chief Minister reminded people that doctors and healthcare professionals are in the forefront of the tough battle against COVID 19 and so are at grave risk of getting infected and putting their life at stake. He, therefore, warned that those who would harass, discriminate, ostracise and stigmatise doctors and health care professionals engaged in treatment of corona infected patients would be detained under the stringent National Security Act and dealt with accordingly. He also announced that awards would be instituted to honour doctors and health care personnel in recognition of their devoted service and exemplary sacrifice and those awards would be conferred on them on national days. Such historic pronouncements of Chief Minister were made when Odisha had only 83 COVID positive cases out which 32 have recovered and 30 separate COVID hospitals have been erected in a record time in several districts across the State with facilities for 4976 beds to treat patients infected by corona virus.
It is worthwhile to mention that the historic pronouncements of Chief Minister should be seen in combination with his earlier demand before the Prime Minister that protective gear, critical care equipment and masks for health care personnel must be available in large quantities to deal with the menace of corona virus. These underline the point that invaluable lives of medical personnel needs to be protected when they remain in the frontline to treat, care and cure the patients on a continuous basis at the grave risk of their lives.
The bold, noble and extraordinary proclamation of Shri Patnaik that doctors and health care professionals on the line of duty administering treatment to COVID patients would be honoured as martyrs in the event of their sad demise exemplifies his statesmanlike stature in our country. It assumes worldwide significance at a time when a disaster of gigantic proportions caused by corona virus has spread at an alarming pace across the globe, infected millions of people, claimed lives of not only hundreds of thousands people but also of doctors and health care professionals and resulted in lock down and shut down of almost all human activities. Such a pronouncement underlines the indispensable and exceptional roles of doctors and health care professionals in the frontline of the arduous fight against corona virus. In doing so Shri Patnaik has set an example for the country and sensitized our people and peoples across the globe to accord the highest honour to the medical personnel, be they doctors or nursing assistants or even other hospital attendants rendering services to COVID patients, and remaining extremely vulnerable to highly infectious corona virus which in many cases claim their precious lives.
Patriotism Should Mean To Promote Health and Human Security
Conventionally martyrdom is the highest honour aspired by any military personnel engaged in duties to defend the security and unity and integrity of our country. In the COVID ridden world and the post COVID architecture of human society the idea of security and patriotism is increasingly spelt out from the point of view of health and well being. Naveen Patnaik's pronouncements constitute in some sense demilitarisation of patriotism. In this context those doctors, nurses and hospital staff who relentlessly fight against corona virus and provide treatment to the victims of that virus are patriots, warriors and guardians of safety, security and well being of human beings. They sacrifice their own lives while treating COVID patients. Therefore, all those who make sacrifices in this life and death struggle against corona are no less martyrs for the cause of human and health security than the martyrs who lay down their lives in defence of unity and integrity of our country and our national security.
Dr. Kotnis attained Martyrdom while Serving Wounded Chinese People
We have in India the example of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis from Maharashtra who went to China, on the call of Jawaharlal Nehru, as part of medical mission to that country which became a victim of Japanese invasion in 1938. Dr. Kotnis tirelessly served the people of China who at that time also had to confront infectious plague disease. His services were so exemplary that he was richly admired by the Chinese people and authorities. He married a Chinese lady who was working with him as a nurse. While rendering medical services in the front line he passed away in China and later Chinese authorities built his statue which occupies a pride of place among the martyrs of China and merits reverential attention from people and powers that be of that country.V Santharam, the famous film maker of bollywood made a film "Kotnis ki Amar Kahani" and immortalized his legacy of service through celluloid medium and underscored the enduring significance of his martyrdom for the cause of saving human lives from disease and disaster.
Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis belonged to the twentieth century world. Now in the twenty first century India we have before us the historic pronouncements of Shri Naveen Patnaik to confer the status martyrs to doctors and health care professionals laying down their lives in response to the call of duty to serve the COVID patients. These shining examples underline the profound meaning of patriotism and martyrdom in the context of health and human security which is more expansive than military security.
Patriotism in terms of health and wellness in Post COVID period
In fact Mark Lawrence Schrad, an associate professor of political science at Villanova University, insightfully wrote,
"America has long equated patriotism with the armed forces. But you can't shoot a virus. Those on the frontlines against corona virus are not conscripts, mercenaries or enlisted men; they are our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, care givers....Like Wen Linag and the doctors of Wuhan, many are suddenly saddled with unfathomable tasks, compounded by an increase risk of contamination and death they are not signed up for. When all is said and done, perhaps we will recognise their sacrifices as true patriotism, saluting our doctors, and nurses, genuflecting and saying, "Thank you for your service"", as we now do for military veterans. We will give them guaranteed health benefits, corporate discounts, and build statues and holidays for this new class of people who sacrifice their health and their lives for ours. Perhaps, too, we will finally start to understand patriotism more as cultivating the health of your community, rather than blowing up someone else's community. May be the demilitarisation of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this awful mess".
"Demiliitarisation of patriotism" should pave the way for understanding it from the perspective of health and human security. It is the need of the hour. China officially honoured doctors who died of COVID 19 while treating corona infected patients as martyrs. Iran has declared that it would recognize doctors and nurses who died combating the new coronavirus as “martyrs” like slain soldiers. Shri Naveen Patnaik's pronouncements that doctors and health professionals laying down their lives while treating COVID patients would be honoured as martyrs and they would get State funeral and full State honours upholds the larger meaning of security and patriotism beyond military dimensions.
Jamsheed Rizwani, a Paris based person of Indian origin responded to the idea of Shri Patnaik and wrote that while honouring the dead, we must also do something to honour those who are alive and their contributions must be recognized. He added that the doctors and health care personnel treating COVID patients should be benefitted financially and socially and their children studying in schools and colleges should get waiver of school and education fees for life and they should get priority in employment in Government service.
Naveen Patnaik's Ideas outweighs PM's Call for Clapping for Health Care Personnel
The way in which Shri Patnaik's pronouncements have been hailed in the national media speaks volumes for their substantive contents which far outweighs the symbolic clapping, ringing the bells and banging utensils by people in response to the call of the Prime Minister of India to show their support to the frontline doctors and health workers engaged in fighting the corona menace. Replication of Shri Patnaik's measures by the Prime Minister and other Chief Ministers will go a long way in boosting the spirit of our doctors and health care personnel in their relentless battle for attaining victory over corona virus.
#The author S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.