India and the world are collectively celebrating public healthcare professionals for their selfless work against the COVID-19 pandemic. While their work is truly commendable, according to a latest notice those in Jammu and Kashmir are faced with intimidation from the state. If they speak against the administration they will have to face the consequences and may end up having to spend six months in jail.
Many voices from doctors about the difficulties and hardships that they have been facing have been emerging from the Valley and to silence these voices the Directorate of Health Services in Kashmir on April 1 issued a circular which reminds government servants with “strict action” if they speak against the efforts that the government is making to combat the pandemic on social media or to the press.
It was stated in the circular, “It has ben observed that some of the government servants are publicly criticising the efforts of the administration to combat the pandemic of COVID-19, which is against the service conduct rules. Hence forth strict action will be initiated against such elements who resort to such uncalled for reproving to media. Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under the Epidemics Diseases Act, 1897 shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC)(45 of 1860).
The IPC section which finds place in the order stands for “disobedience” to order duly promulgated by public servants and calls for imprisonment of up to six months, or a five of up to one thousands rupees or both.
We must acknowledge that in recent weeks many Kashmiri doctors have expressed concern over the medical infrastructure in the Valley and the lack of access to complete information and support in dealing with the pandemic of COVID-19. Many healthcare workers have taken to social media and spoken to the media against the clampdown on communications at such an hour. They have also been expressing their discontent with medical infrastructure in Kashmir and the lack of medicines, equipment, ventilators, man power and protective gears for doctors which has made the response of the erstwhile state against COVID-19 crippling.
We must also acknowledge the fact that during a crisis such as this, doctors are nothing short of the life line of the country and therefore it is very important for the government to cooperate and work in collaboration with the doctors of each state.
While the government’s circular tries to control and command what kind of information about the medical infrastructure in the Valley is allowed to come out in the open, it is equally important to strike a dialogue with the people working in the healthcare sector in the Valley and ensure that they are empowered and equipped to deal with the COVID-19 and their issues and concerns are addressed at this moment of deep crisis.