Demilitarising Patriotism in The Covid Fight
Of late the country has been outraged by shameful and highly
condemnable attacks, in parts of India, on the lives of doctors, nurses and
medical staff treating patients of COVID19. A doctor in Tamil Nadu did not even
get a dignified burial after losing his life following infection from a corona
patient he was treating. In Gujarat a man who applauded in response to the
prime minister's call to express solidarity with medical personnel later
intimidated a doctor in his neighbourhood, asking her to keep away from her
apartment just because she was working in a hospital where COVID patients are
Such ill treatment of doctors and medical workers has compounded
their woes originally caused by the alarming inadequacy of personal protective
equipment, N95 masks and other materials to safeguard them from the highly
infectious coronavirus. In such a disheartening atmosphere, Odisha chief
minister Shri Naveen Patnaik made a significant announcement on April 21 that
if doctors and healthcare professionals of the public and private medical
institutes in the state made the supreme sacrifice by laying down their lives
while treating COVID patients, they would be hailed as martyrs and would get a
state funeral with full state honours.
Such a pronouncement is the first of its kind in our country made
by any leader and it boosted the spirit of doctors and health care staff in
Odisha where there is not a single instance of assault on them. Even earlier
the CM had released three months' advance pay to doctors and medical staff of
the government deployed to treat COVID affected people.
The CM added that the families of deceased doctors and health
personnel would get an ex gratia amount of Rs. 50 lakhs each in convergence
with the initiative of the Union government in this regard, and the families of
those government personnel (medical and others) would continue to get full
salary till the date of their retirement.
In a video message, the chief minister warned that those who would
harass, discriminate, ostracise and stigmatise doctors or healthcare
professionals engaged in treating corona-infected patients would be detained
under the stringent National Security Act and dealt with accordingly. He also
announced that awards would be instituted to honour doctors and health
personnel in recognition of their devoted service and exemplary sacrifice, to
be conferred on them on national days.
The chief minister's pronouncements should be seen in combination
with his earlier demand before the Union government that protective gear,
critical care equipment and masks for health personnel be provided in large
quantities to deal with the growing menace.
As a disaster of gigantic proportions spreads at an alarming pace
across the globe, the Odisha government has set an example for the country and
sensitised peoples across the globe to accord the highest honour to those
rendering crucial health and medical services, which in too many cases claim
their precious lives.
Conventionally martyrdom is the highest honour earned by military
personnel engaged in duties to defend the security and unity and integrity of
our country. In the COVID ridden world and the post COVID architecture of human
society, the idea of security and patriotism is being increasingly spelt out
from the point of view of health and well being. This constitutes in some sense
the demilitarisation of patriotism. Those doctors, nurses and hospital staff
who relentlessly fight disease to the point of sacrificing their own health and
lives are no less martyrs for the cause of human and health security than the
martyrs who lay down their lives in defence of our country's security.
We have in India the example of Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis from
Maharashtra, who went to China on the call of Jawaharlal Nehru as part of a
medical mission to that country which had become a victim of Japanese invasion
in 1938. Dr Kotnis tirelessly served the people of China who at that time also
had to confront infectious plague disease. His services were so exemplary that
he was richly admired by the Chinese people and authorities. He married a
Chinese lady who was working with him as a nurse. While rendering medical
services in the front line he passed away in China, and later the Chinese
authorities built a statue of him which occupies pride of place among the
martyrs of China and merits reverential attention from the people and powers of
V Santharam, the famous filmmaker of Bollywood made a film 'Kotnis
ki Amar Kahani' immortalising the doctor's legacy of service and underscoring
the significance of his martyrdom to the cause of saving human lives from
disease and disaster.
Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis belonged to the twentieth century world. Now
in the twenty first century we are able to confer the status of martyrs to
doctors and health care professionals laying down their lives in response to
the call of duty to serve COVID patients. These shining examples underline the
profound meaning of patriotism and martyrdom in the context of health and human
security, which is more expansive than military security.
In fact Mark Lawrence Schrad, associate professor of political
science at Villanova University, insightfully wrote:
"America has long equated patriotism with the armed forces. But
you can't shoot a virus. Those on the frontlines against corona virus are not
conscripts, mercenaries or enlisted men; they are our doctors, nurses,
pharmacists, teachers, care givers… Like Wen Linag and the doctors of Wuhan,
many are suddenly saddled with unfathomable tasks, compounded by an increase
risk of contamination and death they are not signed up for. When all is said
and done, perhaps we will recognise their sacrifices as true patriotism,
saluting our doctors, and nurses, genuflecting and saying, "Thank you for
your service", as we now do for military veterans. We will give them
guaranteed health benefits, corporate discounts, and build statues and holidays
for this new class of people who sacrifice their health and their lives for
ours. Perhaps, too, we will finally start to understand patriotism more as
cultivating the health of your community, rather than blowing up someone else's
community. May be the demilitarisation of American patriotism and love of
community will be one of the benefits to come out of this awful mess".
The 'demiliitarisation of patriotism' should pave the way for
understanding it from the perspective of health and human security. This is the
need of the hour. China officially honoured doctors who died of COVID19 while
treating corona infected patients as martyrs. Iran has declared it will
recognise doctors and nurses who died combating the new coronavirus as martyrs
like slain soldiers. Naveen Patnaik's pronouncement that doctors and health
professionals laying down their lives while treating COVID patients would be
honoured as martyrs with a state funeral and full state honours upholds the
larger meaning of security and patriotism, beyond military dimensions.
Jamsheed Rizwani, a Paris-based person of Indian origin, wrote in
response to the CM's idea that while honouring the dead we must also do
something to honour those who are alive, and recognise their contributions. He
said the doctors and health care personnel treating COVID patients should be
benefitted financially and socially, and their children studying in schools and
colleges should get a lifelong waiver of school and education fees, and
priority in employment in government service.
The substantive content of these declarations far outweighs the
symbolic clapping, ringing of bells and banging of utensils by people in
response to the call of the Prime Minister of India to show their support to
frontline doctors and health workers engaged in fighting the corona menace.
Emulating more substantive measures will go a long way in boosting the spirit
of our doctors and health care personnel in this relentless ongoing battle.