Even as healthcare professionals across India are risking their lives to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a doctor in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, who died of COVID-19, was denied a dignified burial.
Dr Simon Hercules, 55-year-old neurosurgeon and the chairman of a private hospital in the city, had died on Sunday, April 19, at a private hospital. When the body was taken to the cemetery, the mob pelted stones and attacked the ambulance, forcing the doctor's colleagues to flee. They later came back and had to dig the grave themselves to bury the doctor under police protection.
The police have arrested 20 people from Anna Nagar who were involved in the attack.
On Sunday night, the doctor's body was moved from the private hospital to Corporation's burial ground near Kilpauk. However, a group of around 200 people had gathered at the site and started to protest.
"The Chennai Corporation staff had made all arrangements, and accompanied us from the private hospital to the burial ground. However, on reaching the spot, we found that around 200 persons had gathered and started to protest. Police were on the spot. The Corporation officers said we should go to another burial ground in Anna Nagar (Velangadu). We reached the burial ground and the earthmover was engaged in digging the pit," Pradeep Kumar, consultant, arthroscopy surgeon, was quoted by The Hindu.
However, at the Velangadu cemetery, a group of people pelted stones and attacked the ambulance, injuring the staff. The body was later buried in a hurry after the police provided protection.
"Suddenly, some 50 to 60 persons started to attack us. They started to hurl stones and throw sticks at us. There were about seven to eight Corporation staff at the spot. We had to flee the spot to escape from the attack. Some of us were bleeding. The windshield of the hospital ambulance was damaged by the attackers. We drove back in the same vehicle," Kumar added.
As the family fled, Kumar, with the help of two ambulance drivers, managed to get the doctor's body into the ambulance.
"The two ambulance drivers were bleeding profusely and were losing too much blood. After one point, they said they were feeling faint and had to stop," Kumar was quoted by The Wire.
The drivers were then dropped off at Kilpauk Medical College for treatment. Following this, Kumar sought police protection to carry out the burial.
"We went back around 11 pm to complete what we started. We had to bury him at about 8 feet – even though a deep burial is usually at about 12 feet. The police inspector who was present with us helped me dig a little more with a ploughing tool, and then with our hands we covered him with mud. With the help of two hospital staff, I dug a space and buried my close friend by pushing in mud with my own hands. He was a doctor, a philanthropist and the managing director of a hospital. He didn't deserve this end," Kumar said.
"He was not shown even basic humanity. Even his wife and teenage son couldn't be there to say goodbye. What wrong did he do? He could have stayed home after the virus spread. His only fault was that he continued to serve society, and put his own health at risk to help others," he added.
Indian Medical Association Warns Of Retaliatory Measures
Following the protest against the burial of Dr Hercules, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on Monday warned of "appropriate retaliatory measures" if the authorities fail to stop such incidents.
"It is a matter of great concern that these doctors who had died in their line of duty be treated shabbily and in such an uncivilised manner," the doctors' body said in a statement.
"Even more shocking is the utter helplessness of the State Government in preventing such incidents. If the Governments do not have power to stop such incidents they lose their moral right to govern," it added.
Mentioning about the various attacks faced by healthcare workers amid the pandemic, the IMA said that it has shown much restraint in spite of extreme provocations. "That doesn't mean our patience is endless," they said.
"Denial of dignity in death is the ultimate sacrilege. It has to be realised that the doctors are rendering services at extreme risk to themselves. No nation sends its army to war without weapons," it added.
"While all other interventions have already been withdrawn, it is very unfortunate if more services are going to be withheld for non-medical reasons. The state governments concerned are better warned to perform their constitutional duties as expected," IMA Secretary General RV Asokan was quoted by NDTV.
"Failing which IMA has no option but to resort to drastic steps to protect the rights of the medical professionals. Appropriate retaliatory measures will be decided if the constitutional machinery breaks down," Asokan added.
As a 'White Alert' the IMA asked hospitals and medical staff across the country to light candles on April 22 to protest against attacks on workers.
"Light a candle with a white coat. White alert is only a warning," the IMA said.
It added that if the government fails to enact Central Law on violence against doctors and hospitals even after 'White alert', Black Day will be observed on April 23.
"All doctors in the country will wear black badges," the IMA said.