Since the first case of coronavirus in India, the country has been outraged by life-threatening attacks, in some parts of India, on doctors, nurses and healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.
Most of the attacks have been on healthcare personnel on the line of their duties. Few doctors returning home from duty have been barred from entering their homes and in remarkable cases, even asked to vacate their premises. In a barbaric act, few people not only attacked healthcare workers but prevented a decent burial of a neurosurgeon who died of COVID-19 complications on April 19. The numerous news of attacks on our frontline warriors staggers my conscience. It is both remorseful and traumatic to watch citizens of my country behaving so ruthlessly.

There are more than 23,000 cases of positive coronavirus in the country, and every infected person is dependent on healthcare workers for the sake of their lives. Every patient recovered, or even the people who the people who have tested positive are in a way or another, dependent on healthcare workers. So what exactly makes few people attack or even try to kill these “saviours”? Panic, terror, misinformation and ignorance, in my opinion, are the primary reasons behind the abuses and violence against healthcare workers in the post-COVID-19 world.

The stigma and isolation resulted in attacks on healthcare workers who were in the line of their duty. Plus the uncalled-for communal angle given by several fringe elements had elevated the damage. This reaction has been similar to the way people reacted in the early days of the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the country. Some people, instead of considering this virus as a disease which could be cured, coloured it as a “Stigma of Impurity”. And in all these negative messages, hate-mongering, fear and rumours, the godly figures who are trying to protect us are the ironically the ones being harmed the most.

This has to STOP!

The way ahead holds two things- (a) strict laws against such violent mongers, (b) conducting awareness-building workshops to give people the clarity of the situation.

To resist the attacks on our medical workers engaged in treating and tracking COVID-19 cases across the country the union government, very appropriately, has approved an ordinance making acts of violence against doctors and frontline personnel a cognisable and non-bailable offence punishable with prison terms. The law and also provides compensation in case of injury or damage or loss to property thus is commendable. PM Narendra Modiji also tweeted the same stating that, “This law will ensure the safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety!”

The historic announcement in the country was made when CM Naveen Patnaik Ji declared that doctors and healthcare professionals of both public and private medical facilities in the state, who lose their lives in this fights against COVID-19, would be hailed as martyrs and would get a State funeral with full State honours. The statement, the first of its kind in our country, has heightened the spirit of doctors and medical workers in Odisha, where there has not been a single instance of assault on them.

In a video message Patnaik Ji said, “State government in convergence with Government of India initiative will ensure that Rs.50 lakh is given for all health personnel (private and public) and members of all other support services who lose their precious lives in the fight against COVID19. The state will treat the health personnel death as martyrs & provide state funeral with state honours. A detailed scheme of awards will be instituted recognising their unparalleled sacrifice. These awards will be given on national days. Any act against them (health personnel) is an act against the state. If anyone indulges in any activity that will disturb or dishonour their work, stringent criminal action will be taken against them including invoking provisions of National Security Act.”

This message made people aware of the situation; it gave the necessary strength and dignity that the medical workers deserved, it also laid a strict foundation against violators but most importantly, this message, re-defined patriotism. Customarily, martyrdom is the highest honour sought by any military personnel engaged in defending the country. In a COVID-dominated world and the post-COVID design of human society, the concept of security and patriotism is from the point of view of health and well-being. Patnaik Ji defined the broader meaning of security and patriotism in his video message and the implementation of the law that Odisha is accepting. Thus, it has re-defined patriotism. The union is following the ideas and the work of Naveen Ji, typically. This has rightly proved that “What Odisha does today, India does tomorrow.”

The society has to have more compassion, empathy, unmitigated support and cooperation towards all the medical workers. Just remember that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are forced to work long hours treating patients infected with the highly infectious virus are at the end human beings and have their family. They do this even when protective gear in the form of gloves, face mask and personal protective equipment are scarce. This means they are basically going to war short-handed. And as responsible and patriotic citizens, we must support our warriors and not attack those who are protecting us. We must remember that we follow the Gandhian way of living where violence in thought or action, doesn’t have any place, neither in a pandemic nor in normalcy.