Essays, Saswat
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Medical Strike: Misplaced Sympathies and Denial of Privilege

By Saswat Pattanayak

I will call this the Princess Diana Syndrome. Remember that poor adorable princess who met an untimely death? The whole world just seemed to have lost this great soul who was so beautiful and could have changed everyone’s lives by posing alongside the orphans. Media everywhere from global to national to regional to local got hooked onto the image of Diana as the savior who was a victim (even if that meant that she was victim of media themselves!) To some extent the media houses blamed each other, the paparazzis and even the evil cash-rich boyfriend who was also some kind of a prince.
The fairy tale ended with Diana. Or as much I thought.

Until I started following the medical students in India. A country that recently underwent a historic blunder with a nuclear treaty, whose prime minister went on the stage to hail the colonial powers, whose farmers were reportedly committing suicides every passing day off unpaid debts, whose tribal people were being shot at by police brutally for absolutely no legal reason, whose fortunes had been so unevenly distributed that the gap between the rich and the poor had only been doubling periodically if not more, whose healthcare system, education system, and corruption system were all continuing to be elitist in every phase of reincarnations.

Suddenly someone dropped a cup of tea. Reservation bill for the other backward castes. I thought it was teacup indeed because I read from school civics book about the directive principles of state policies in Section IV of Indian constitution. And if I never would have read those books, then also I could have understood the need for such reservations for a country like India. In my recent trip to India this last December I could feel that Bangalore needed some reservations for working class people to stay there, lest the city be taken over by cash-rich tech-savvy tenants. In Hyderabad, I felt like in Charminar area, there needed to be some reservations for the Muslim preachers so that the Hindu temple created alongside the monument does not continue intentionally blowing its bhajans on loudspeakers. In Bhubaneswar, I felt like the Orissa tribals needed some reservations at Kalinga Nagar lest the lands all get to money hungry arms dealers aka government. But hardly I realized that the teacup would become a storm, possibly the worst storm to have hit India in recent times.

I always thought reservations for backward caste people in India are not some proposal or imaginings. It is a necessity. It’s a historical necessity! But instead what I found as I kept flapping emails and newspapers and blog comments were some grounds of objection which were gaining mammoth popularity. I have dealt with many issues, including Merit, elsewhere in this blog. But I will lay out other popular domains here.

1) Is Reservation a Favor?
One, the ground that the backward caste people have made quite some progress, and so they do not need reservation anymore.

Of course this is valid observation to say that they have made quite some progress. But to say that they don’t need reservation any more is to defeat the crux of the observation itself. Precisely because they have made progress, it’s logical to conclude that the reservation policies in India have worked positively in improving the lots of some people who include people that we historically called untouchables. Now the reality though is their improvement has taken place only marginally so far, and is on a constant progression. They are growing in the social ladders, but are yet to attain the power structures. Quite similar to the black people of America where through affirmative actions, many of the minority people rose to stardom, yet we know that not many of them have become influential so far in many elite areas. Even today more than 90% or more of the deans of colleges all over are White. Even today there is only one Senator who is a black. But some progress is being made nevertheless. I have a quicker solution (to which I will allude in a while), but I am also ready to go with the tide!

Likewise in India, the progress in order to continue demands that we increase the reservation quotas even more so that we can see more substantial improvement in the lives of the historically dispossessed. There is also a moral question here, which often goes unnoticed. That answers the question of ‘Why should we care’ types. These people are lower caste, because they were declared so by the ‘higher’ castes. They suffered so that the higher ones would enjoy the privilege. And hence, if not for any other legal and rational reasons (which are aplenty), for this moral reason itself, India needs to resurrect itself and let the lower caste people have greater shares of the cake now on. We owe it to them. To our domestic servants, and to the farmer-slaves. And to those students whose seats we not only refused them to have, but also refused them to dream of having.

2) Who Divides the Society?

Second line of reasoning that I see common to my readers’ resentments is pertaining to the division of society on basis of caste. To this, my answer is one of amazement. Caste politics have always continued to thrive in India. All the while, the lower caste people were subjugated and there was not a sign of remorse and guilt (and no demonstrations by upper castes against their fellow oppressors. When Gandhi offered his token fasts, he was also killed by the Hindu fundamentalists). Even to this day, all classified marriage ads would stress on marriages within castes. Even today domestic slaves are continuing to flock households of higher classes. Division of labor is indeed a casteist prerogative. Medical students who are polishing shoes to demonstrate their anger are clearly suggesting that they consider the work of cobbler as below their dignity! Even to this day! In other words the children of Brahmin caste would not allow their children to become cobblers in India. No matter how poor, the Brahmin families would stress on wearing the sacred thread to distinguish them from lower caste families. These active forms of caste discriminations are being practiced in India for as long as we know. And now only since the structure of Brahminical dominance bastion (the education) is being challenged, the country is noticing havoc. Suddenly politicians are being blamed for caste-based politics now. All along when the politicians themselves practiced Brahminism and the people did so religiously (everytime they invited only the Brahmin priests to solemnize a marriage) then no one questioned the caste divisions of India. Only when there is a valid demand for legitimate share in higher education, there is the hue and cry. Some of the more progressive minds agree that it’s fine to “improve the quality of primary education by granting even 80% seats to backward castes”, but its not OK to have reservations in Higher Education! I mean, the answer to that is, of course there are 80% of people in India who are backward castes anyway. So all of them will be in primary education, which is free and compulsory! It is the lack of resources and access to elite medical school coachings and preparations for them that deprive these 80% people! Hence the need for reservations.

The point is regarding losing the power. The well-meaning friends know it too well that primary schools do not change power equations. Throw them to schools, when their parents will force them to work in fields or have them sold to ragpickers, they will anyway drop-out. Plus they know that there is no chance in hell for the backward castes people to fund their medical preparations or other elite education at all. So it’s easier to give those 80% away to primary education! The ruling class knows the rules of wishful thinkings. Saying let them have primary education is like saying, let the wives do the household works only! When it comes to decision making and when it comes to budgeting money, the Men are there! Young students of India are actually thinking that higher education needs merit, and let the primary education go to the lower castes. The transition and the factors in between, the vertical structure of class society, the money factor, the debt factor, the social mobility factor, the factor of having one surname in place of another—are completely lost on the blue-eyed youngsters!

3) The Infatuation with Exotic Exceptions:

Third, is the question of the poor Brahmins. The poor Brahmins are aplenty in India. No denying that. But how come again, the minority poor Brahmins are now becoming the issue when the majority poor backward castes never were catered to?!

If total population of Brahmins in India are mere 5% and of them one percent would be actually poor, or comparatively poor with the landless Dalits and Adivasis we need to make policy decisions here. No I do not agree with the alternative proposals of economic parity argument. I am sure that’s not going to work in a simple way. From Vivekananda to Aurobindo, Hindu preachers knew to what extent caste is a socio-economically complex concept. The poor Brahmins are NOT the same as the poor Dalits. Period.

We all know it just too well. When the poor Brahmin begs in India, it’s considered a blessing to serve him/her. When the poor Dalit begs, the person is treated like a cursed cur. Who are we kidding? It’s actually regressive to even equate both categories. To begin with, Brahmins were not supposed to be wealth accumulators. I hardly know many Brahmins who are super rich. As I have stated earlier it’s the Kshyatriyas and Vaisyas who were the rich and powerful. All that the Brahmins had was the monopoly on knowledge, and that to a great extent translated power for them. Because of that so-called ‘knowledge’, the Brahmins have always survived the otherwise economic onslaughts. Using that today, most of them have become Pandits, Vedis, Dwivedis, Trivedis and Chaturvedis! They are the traditional scholars building up the ivory towers of education. They have defined the syllabus where students don’t read history of Dalit plights in independent India. They have demarcated the superiority of engineering and medicine as subjects that only they have ensured as more worthy by creating a demand-supply ratio that increases market pressure for those jobs. The Brahmins have relegated farming as a lowly activity although India is supposed to be an agricultural country. In Brahminical India, the farmers commit suicides and engineers fly first class! They have not just conceptualized their brand of education and forced its validity down on us, they have also created a market for their education (reason why students of literature and art history do not get jobs and find hardly any takers for marriage even for a dowry!), and they have earmarked the status tags.

In that whole process, their monopoly has not got lost on us—and which we see every passing day, the disproportionately high beggars on Indian streets, the prostitutes in cheap brothels and the large unemployed crime-prone youth groups. What it has also done is let a few cracks fall here and there, where there have been some Brahmin victims as well. But the victims in these cases are victimized because of a Brahminical structure itself, not because they are Brahmins. It’s like the White homeless people of America are victim of a White structure that thrives on market capitalism.

The question is where to start the reform process. As I have said earlier, I have quicker ways to address these issues. I guess many are working towards that in Nepal, in Orissa, and in Jharkhand now. But since the governments, that are more interested to guard the Indian Hindu Constitution than to empower the people in reality want a reform process, I think they know the answer now.

Part of the reason why even a rightwing BJP is supporting the Communists in this case (whoa!) is because it understands that the opportunistic Communist members in the UPA do not want radical replacement of the power structure. They want to maintain the ‘sanctity’ of the unity factor which enables the ruling class to rule.

The reason why different nations of India are not yet separate countries is because Nehru passed a bill in early 60’s that made it illegal to cede from the country. Likewise, every ruling coalition guards its interests. That’s the reason why all political parties want this reservation to go on, not as a revolutionary step—but as a conservative step to prevent the alternative.

Is there a Quicker Alternative?

The young inspired idiots who think they are some medical scholars should get the political maturity to understand that there cannot be a better government for them than the current UPA. At least Manmohan Singh can use his so-called leftist pimps to silence the Dalit resentments in India. In the other case, if they fail to do that (and Lord Ram forbid, Advani must be chanting) a massive revolution of the landless against the landlords in India could result not only in abolition of those medical coaching centers, but also in revamping of the healthcare system completely.

Five decades ago, the US thought Cubans were no good other than being sex slaves and sugarcane farmers. Fidel Castro got the support of his revolutionary people to change the country into one of the best healthcare haven known in the world history (even better than the US itself)! It’s because Cuba did not have an elite medical education, nor did it distinguish between people of different jobs. Yes, the media reports have denounced Cuba because the doctors get less pay there than the peons get paid in Indian government offices. But what the heck, doctors in Cuba have demonstrated highest human concerns (even to a Katrina crisis that US could not handle), whereas for all we know, India has one of the worst healthcare systems in the recorded world history that ignore the poor people systematically who cannot pay their fees.

If the medicos do not heed to their politically powerful friends in both ruling and opposition (as if there is a difference between Manmohan Singh and LK Advani!), they will soon be unable to withstand the abolition of elitist structure of higher education. Once higher education will be massified, and will be available for free to all (deservedly so), they can no longer monopolize over the professions and they can no longer demand French wines from Pharmaceutical companies to prescribe illicit drugs! My friends who are Pharma sales representatives have given me rides to clinics of doctors in big cities of India, where they demand for gifts ranging from liquor to flight tickets to call girls! Oh those merit-based established Brahmin doctors of India!

The Taboo Question: Do Doctors deserve the Hype?

With all these talks of merit and education, the medical practitioners in India are impaired by skills. Engineering and medical colleges in India are institutes of big fraudulent activities. Seats are blocked, sold and malpractices in examinations are so rampant that even the college principals have to call off the examinations. Why “Munnabhai MBBS” movie became such approved despite being an unoriginal flick is because people have lost trust on the doctors as a whole. Visit any medical and one finds unattended patients rolling down on the floor for days. Only those who have money or power are lucky enough to procure a bed inside the hospital. People die on the hospital corridors every passing day because doctors simply refuse to look at them. The AIIMS, where one protestor was allegedly killed (another media hype which could turn out to be false) is a place where thousands of critical patients are without beds, where to get a doctor appointment one needs to wait for weeks, and where dozens of people die on daily basis because of inefficient care even before being admitted! The private hospitals like Apollo are so expensive that even Americans would prefer the state hospital of Baltimore county.

India, the country to second largest population in the world is mired by healthcare issues from the beginning. Brahminical stress on female infanticide and the expensive screening of unborn gender are a regular inhuman practice. Historically “merit”-orious doctors have history of neglect that have no known parallels, in terms of sheer magnitude.

The myth of merit being attached to doctors is one which also needs to be shattered. Democratization (proper representation of backward castes which form the majority) and not professionalization (elitism) holds the key if we want any change for the good.

In the meantime, I am saddened to notice that many well-meaning people have actually found their Princess Diana in the medical students’ strikes. It’s glamorous. Pretty faces holding slogans any day get more prominence in media than black-faced coal mine workers. Or the landless tribals who get killed for defending their rights, or even the students who demand reservations because they are discriminated on grounds of merit. After all, just like caste, Merit is also a human construct.

Caste and Merit: Two sides of the same Coin?

What’s interesting is that both caste and merit were devised by the upper class Brahmins. When it suited them to rule over others, they used ‘Caste’ and aided the Kings in exploiting the masses. Those were the days when even the ‘poor’ Brahmins were comfortable being poor, because they gained respect ONLY by renouncing their wealth. People from villages to royal palace would continuously garland them with gifts and foods, and those poor Brahmins would not have to toil on fields and even if they did not own a palace they had unrestricted access to any house they wanted to visit, to rape lower caste virgins or to ‘banish’ lower caste rebels.

When the feudal society was “replaced” by capitalistic one (not entirely though as we learn more) by the same ruling class, the terms changed slightly. The moving money started ruling, instead of the concrete lands. At this juncture also, the ruling class (including the Brahmins) started monopolizing over the money since modern money economy also germinated from Gold (their traditional ownership) than crops (the farmers’ produce, although that also took place in lands owned by the landlords).

But with the revolution of the landless once again to cause imbalance of ruling structure, money found itself in slightly more democratic structure (just as the historic progression of everything else). Here is where some Brahmins and members of other ruling classes fell prey to competition. Before all the palaces and the institutions were about to be conquered by the hitherto landless class, the ruling coalition devised the Class Society.

The sustenance of Class Society:

Class Society in Democratic systems work in a hegemonist way, to facilitate power consolidation in the society on basis of “Knowledge”, another traditional weapon of the ruling class. Here also, the only ones who benefited were the small elites. But when the most accessible ones (the applications or the Arts) could be understood by the majority, the ruling elites raised the bar for the most inaccessible ones –only with the aim to exclude people, not include—(the principles or the Sciences).

At this juncture, the traditionally landless people are now rising up to demand their share in the inaccessible sciences, to stop further gaps between them and the knowledge, not just in terms of economic costs, but also in terms of social costs of understanding. In the past, we have seen how physical sciences were hijacked by the ruling elites also by practice. Indian bomb needed to be called a Hindu Bomb for that reason! The nuclear physics that earmarked the class society helped the traditional Pandits. What has a tribal society got to do with nuclear weapons? Even if it has some constructive uses, why should the traditionally landless village dwellers bother about this when they can live peacefully with their Mother River, without disturbing “geopolitics” of “Indian subcontinent?.

But as the class society progressed in its greed, the divisions became more apparent. The modern landless of India got most affected in the whole process. Bereft of traditional education, and threatened by industrial displacements, the majority of the poor have been organizing at several places of India at several levels. But at the same time, irrespective of the local area developments, and the cooperatives, there has been such an exoticization of the backward caste people that an imagery of them becoming engineers and doctors are inviting wraths from the traditional bastion holders.

Just like the “White Men’s Burdens”, the Brahminical burden to civilize Indian population has expressed itself in bad to worse forums. One comment on a blog read, “How can you let a SC/ST doctor conduct operation”? Its not unfortunate, its actually criminal to think that someone from a lower caste who get, lets say 40 marks less than the higher caste (for various reasons spanning from absence of English heritage, to lack of malpractice, to no proximity with the professor who rather wants to give away his daughter’s hand to a fellow Brahmin aspirant doctor) will become an inferior doctor.

With the current healthcare records of India as an indicator, if nothing else, the candidates getting lower marks (which is anyway improbable) must be allowed to replace the candidates with higher marks. For the practice of medicine is not meant to be proven in its elitism of institution or certificate rankings, but in the everyday dealings with suffering people. Established doctors and enrolled medical students who have clearly demonstrated that they do not feel for the fellow suffering aspirant students, are clearly also sending out a message that they are highly insincere, insensitive and criminal when it comes to dealing with suffering patients. We do not need high-scoring candidates now, all that India needs now is skilled people with human values that champions the causes of the dispossessed. We have the majority of such well meaning people (clearly evident by the way they have been tolerating a minor Hindu supremacist rule in India since decades now) in the country. What we need is to merely train them in the elite fields to make the skills accessible to most people. Since there are a handful of opportunist professionals (like airline pilots) blackmailing the country, Indian people perhaps should request doctors from fellow third world countries for a short duration and in the meantime, fix these irresponsible doctors behind bars, and completely overhaul the current healthcare system, where they must allow no more than 5% of upper caste people to get into the profession (they will be needed for short time, since the indifferent socialites will need some counseling from those so-called doctors who can actually empathize with their midlife crises).

No more Princess Diana tears, please. What we need is addressing of the real issues that affect THE MAJORITY, not the minority. When Bolsheviks came to power they had to overlook the pains caused to beautiful daughters of the royal families. When peasant revolutionaries of India chased the Kings down the streets, they did not spare the innocent children of the palace either. When a revolution takes place or almost takes shape (as in Nepal) one does not have time nor patience to attend the cute royal Dianas’ pleas.

At least 80% to 95% reservations of seats in medical institutes (merely to reflect the proportion of backward caste people), if not outright revolutionary takeover of the medical colleges, is a necessity at this critical juncture. If a small minority of 5% of people could rule over the country through complete control over elite institutions (and promote divisive oppressions), then 80% of people taking over every hospital to take care of their own lot through complete control over elite institutions (to make them mass institutes, and promote majority rule) is definitely going to be a welcome relief in India.

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  1. Pingback: Rohith Vemula: Indian Left and the Dalit Student Suicides - Saswat Blog

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