Doctors in West Bengal striking work in protest against the brutal assault against one of their own have been joined by their counterparts in other parts of the country. The whole situation is unfortunate but it is nevertheless a symptom of a larger malaise that is not restricted to one state or indeed country. Members of the medical professional have been regularly attacked by relatives or friends of patients for perceived negligence. An overburdened public healthcare system that is near collapse, leaving little room for doctors and others to give the personal attention that is often needed does not make the situation better, and this is not likely to change in the near future given the meagre spending on the sector. Moreover, given the proclivity among large parts of fellow citizens to self-diagnose, perhaps it is natural that they have a high level of scepticism about and consider themselves more knowledgeable about medicine than people who have spent years studying the subject.
The hospital staffers on strike are seeking an end to the assaults. This, the thinking goes, can be achieved by a) having the government provide them guards to protect them or b) enact legislation that would impose stiff monetary penalties on those who indulge in violence or even imprison them. Both appear good steps on paper but the truth is that neither approach is practical or guaranteed to succeed in the intended aim. The simple if unpleasant truth is that it is society at large that has to change, and that can be possible only with education and increased awareness. People turn to doctors when they are in need. Doctors, who take the Hippocratic Oath, do their best to help, not always successfully. That is no reason to turn on them, unless you are a hypocrite.