The first recorded protest by students in Punjab was in 1905 when students from King Edward Medical College, led by Dr. Satya Paul protested against the discrimination being faced by the students (Page 21, Pakistan Main Tulaba Tehreek, Professor Aziz uddin Ahmed). The first proper National Student Body was founded by yet another medical student, Dr. Sarwar from Dow Medical College, Karachi. Dr. Sarwar formed Pakistan’s first student union, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). He got his final medical exam results while still in prison in 1954.
Later on, the Anti-Ahmedi movement in 1974 was also instigated by an incident that occurred to some students from Nishtar Medical College. (The unfortunate beating of the students of Nishtar Medical College, Multan, on May 29, 1974, proved to be a major incident that infuriated this anti-Ahmadi movement. The students, going on train, started shouting against Ahmadis while reaching Rabwah – the headquarter city of Ahmadis in Pakistan – resulting in a strong reaction of Ahmadis to this gathering). An honorable mention should also be made to Dr. Laal Khan. In the 1970s, Khan was a student of medicine in college and a political activist in Pakistan when the military coup of General Zia ul Haq toppled the Pakistan Peoples Party government. He was arrested in 1980 on the charges of leading a student wing which was involved in organizing mass rallies against General Zia’s government. He was sentenced to one year in prison, fifteen lashes, and a 20,000 rupee fine.
The above-mentioned examples prove that medical students and doctors, have always been involved in political scenario over the years, despite belonging to a very busy profession. The most recent addition to this list has been the rise of young doctors in Punjab, specially Lahore. The movement started initially in 2007/8 at Mayo Hospital, Lahore when a lady doctor was mis-treated by the attendants of a patient. This incident outraged the doctors working in Mayo Hospital and a small association was formed to safeguard the basic rights of Doctors. It was named Young Doctors Association.
In 2007/8, the lawyers’ movement for restoration of Chief Justice was a historic moment in the country. As a result, a movement was started by doctors, most of whom were foreign graduates, in Lahore. Their demands were simple and just. They wanted a pay raise for doctors and a proper service package. The movement also brought 2 groups of doctors in loggerheads with each other. One of the groups was the aforementioned young Doctors Association, formed in Mayo Hospital and comprising mostly of graduates of King Edward Medical College(KEMC students are renowned for their arrogance, which was probably one of the reasons for the split).
The other faction comprised doctors from other public-sector hospitals of Lahore, such as Services Hospital(which was and still is, the unofficial headquarters of the other faction), Jinnah Hospital, Lahore General Hospital, Ganga Ram Hospital and Children Hospital. The second group also had members from other cities, like Multan, Faisalabad, Rahim Yar Khan, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur. The second group named itself Young Doctors Association Punjab. There were strikes, road blocks and all sorts of pressure was built to force the government to act upon the demands of Doctors. There was some success as health officials and Chief Minister agreed to increase the pay of Doctors and regularize the service structure, in principle. In practice, however, nothing changed.
Things remained in the pipeline for quite a long time but there was just an impasse. In 2011, doctors decided that time had come to take things a notch higher than usual. Outdoor Patient Departments(OPDs) were closed and alternative medical camps were started outside public sector hospitals, as a sign of protest. Roads were blocked, press conferences were held, countless meetings happened between Doctors and the Health Officials. All of this led to nothing. Pays were not raised and the status quo was maintained. On the other hand, the “original” YDA had joined hands with a faction of PMA(Pakistan Medical Association), thereby conceding their turf and parroting the establishment’s agendas(Following message was posted by YDAP on their facebook page,
“dear all beware of black sheep of our community…dr.rana sohail , dr.talha sherwani & dr.salman kazmi.these people should be ashamed of themselves for these dirty tactics…shame on these black sheep.playing with dignity n faith of our community”).The office bearers and member of that organization did not care to remember that almost a whole century ago, their predecessors from the same institute had worked to change the status quo and they were not only betraying their community, they were also betraying their history.
It was in the months of February and March 2011 that things got really bad between doctors and government of Punjab. There were strikes on major roads on Daily Basis, in some cases, even emergency departments were closed. Dozens of patients died due to this cruel game between the doctors and Government of Punjab. Learning by their earlier mistakes and by the Lawyers’ movement, Doctors started using media as an effective ploy in their favor. There were debates and talk shows on daily basis with doctors and members of government. At a protest, even a few doctors were arrested and taken to jail(This had happened earlier in 2008 as well when Dr. Hamid Butt, President YDAP was arrested and kept in Jail for 2-3 days). In April 2011, government of Punjab finally accepted the demands of doctors and pays of doctors were raised. (Daily Times in its editorial, “Many a slip” wrote, The longest strike in the country’s history by doctors in Punjab called by the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) came to an end after the doctors’ representatives and the Punjab government held talks and reached an agreement)
A lot of lessons can be learnt from this movement, one year after the majority of demands were fulfilled. Doctors had to go to the extreme to get their deserved rights and government showed criminal negligence by not accepting the facts. All kinds of ploys were used to divide the medical community, including the gimmick of YDA(Mayo Hospital Group) and arrests of doctors. Media mostly played the role of a Devil’s advocate, by painting doctors as mercenaries. The most important thing that I myself felt(as I took part in most of the movement) was the high-handedness of our own representatives at times.
The decision to close the emergencies was simply wrong. In many cases, the patients and attendants of patients were beaten up because they had dared to ask for treatment at a public hospital(run by Taxpayer money) while the doctors were on strike. Even after the dust settled, many office-bearers of YDAP mis-treated their fellow colleagues just because they could afford to do so. The idiom “With great power comes great responsibility” was forgotten. The movement also caused damage to the national “image” of doctors as Messiahs and healers. Many of the prime agitators had previously been part of Islami Jamiat Talba in their student days, thereby giving the movement a right-wing tilt. Many doctors who did not even want to become part of the movement were forced to stop performing their duties, just to build up the case for solidarity.
Things have started deteriorating again. Express Tribune reported on 17th April, 2012,
“The outpatient departments (OPDs) of public hospitals across the province were closed on Monday as senior doctors joined their junior colleagues in a strike called by the Young Doctors Association (YDA).This was the fourth day of the strike in Lahore, but the first in the rest of the province. Patients were left unattended in the OPDs as there wasn’t anybody to examine them.
“This has never happened before. Even the professors weren’t willing to come to OPDs,” said a senior faculty member at King Edward Medical University and a professor at Mayo Hospital who did not go to work on Monday either. He said that professors were either backing the YDA or scared of it.”
The latest wave of protests is based on three demands by doctors.
- The service structure should be revised, as agreed by the CM Punjab last year in negotiations.
- The transfer of 46 under-training doctors to different hospitals, mid-training should be reversed.
- Seats for paid house jobs in Government Hospitals should be increased because of increased number of seats for students in the Entry test.
The 46 doctors that are being mentioned include many high-profile YDAP members and it is a blatant attempt to break the strong-hold of YDAP from Services Hospital. OPDs have been closed for the last 3 days, as mentioned in the news report above. Doctors have warned that if the transfer orders are not withdrawn, Emergency Services will also be discontinued. There is a “Dharna” also planned by the YDAP on 25th of April, 2012. The battle lines have been drawn again, and sadly the ultimate victim of this tussle would be the ordinary patient who cannot afford private health Care. Both the Government and the Doctor Community needs to understand the sensitiveness of this issue because things could turn ugly again.