Published: 08th November 2022
Midnight batons, water cannons and police crackdown on protesting students at PGIMS
The students protesting at PGIMS Rohtak were detained by the police force on November 5; students complaint of manhandling
In the wee hours of November 5, Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS) Rohtak students faced what they were dreading for so long. Shadows of uniformed men with batons, bulletproof jackets and helmets dragging students in white coats off the streets, water cannons directly hitting the camera of the student documenting the protests, howling and screaming in the darkness and departing police vans packed with white coat-clad students were the grim images from PGIMS Rohtak recently as the protesting students were detained by police. These documented moments were shared with EdexLive and the same are also going viral on social media, with strong condemnation against the state's action.
Students v/s the officials
The darkness in the videos barely allows the spectator to distinguish one face from the other. In some of the videos, one can make out the silhouette of the khaki clan overpowering the white coat clan as their jackboot descend and gather at the protest site. The protests were staged in front of the auditorium at PGIMS Rohtak on November 4 and it was around 10 pm that the police started gathering.
“Initially they were only threatening us to clear the space. Then around 2:30 in the morning, they started using water cannons and force. Students were dragged and detained forcefully. Such brutal force at the wee hours was absolutely uncalled for,” said Akash Mehra, a PGIMS student, adding, “Section 144 has been imposed in the area.” As per the videos, the students were on a peaceful sit-in protest when they were forcefully removed from the site. Dr Sarika Verma, Secretary of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Gurgaon, said, “After 7 pm, you cannot take women into custody. What crime did these students commit to drag and detain them at three in the morning?”
The incident happened just hours before the Governor, Chief Minister and Home Minister arrived on the campus for the PGIMS convocation on November 5. When EdexLive reached out to PGIMS Rohtak’s Director, Dr SS Lohchab’s office for a comment, he had this to say, “The students were blocking the convocation gate with the intention to halt the convocation that was held on November 5. The students were blocking the gate and we had to get it cleared for the guests.” Hardik, a student from the 2020 batch of PGIMS Rohtak was still in the police station when EdexLive contacted him in the late afternoon of November 5. “More than 250 students are in jail right now,” informed the medical student who was also on strike along with other doctors. As per information from the students, around ten representatives from the students were to meet the Chief Minister at the convocation.
A bit of background
The Haryana medical students are protesting against the new bond policy of the state government which would require the students studying at government medical colleges to pay a bond money of Rs 10 lakh a year in addition to their tuition fees. This is a part of the policy announced in the 2020 Gazette by the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER), Haryana, which generated a lot of criticism. Despite its introduction in 2020, the students weren’t required to pay the amount due to the pandemic. However, now the colleges are demanding the students to pay. These students include new admittees of the 2022 batch and also students of the 2021 and 2020 batches. The bond regulation was previously only applicable when doctors refused to accept government employment, but the new policy mandates that students pay the sum while enrolled in class without a guaranteed job. According to the policy, after receiving their medical degrees, doctors must work for a total of seven years in the government's medical sectors before receiving a single reimbursement from the government.
Since the major counselling procedure is held at PGIMS Rohtak, the college serves as the focal point for all of the government college medical students in Haryana. It is also one of the top medical colleges in the country and state where the most meritorious and high rankers of the medical entrance test make it. However, the counselling at Rohtak has been cancelled in accordance with the demands of the students who are protesting against the bond policy. Among the protesting students are the batch 2020, and 2021 and also the newly admitted students from the batch of 2022 and their parents.
Solidarities and condemnation
Associations and organisations from the medical fraternity stepped up to show their support and solidarity. The Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA), again, took to Twitter to condemn the action, “Water Cannons! Really!! This was not at all required. Shame ! What is required is a senseful resolution to this atrocious bond policy.” Further in another tweet, they say, “We’re closely following up the situation in Haryana. We assure the students that we’ll stand with you no matter what. If a swift resolution is not done, we will be forced to do nationwide agitation & the authorities will be responsible for this @OfficeOf_MM @cmohry @anilvijminister.”
EdexLive also reached out to the President of FORDA, Dr Aviral Mathur, who opined that the incident was completely uncalled for. He said, “The state has taken away the basic fundamental right of peaceful protest from these students. There was no instigation, sabotaging or staging of anything that required such extreme actions. This calls for a new force to escalate the protest nationwide.” Dr Mathur further added, “The bond policy deserves such a treatment. No one paid any heed to the demands of these students and there was no other way apart from striking. As of now, we demand the immediate release of the students and dissolution of the entire bond policy.” The FORDA president also informed us that FORDA had earlier written a letter, dated October 31, to the State Health Minister of Haryana criticising the introduction of the bond policy. However, that remained a one-way communication without any response from authorities.
The IMA-JDN had also previously written a letter addressing the Chief Minister and Home Minister of Haryana, requesting they resolve the bond-related issue and consider the demands of the students. In the same letter, they also warned about their “zero tolerance” for any acts of violence against the students. Following the detention of the students, the Chairman of Indian Medical Association Junior Doctors’ Network (IMA-JDN), Haryana, said, “We condemn this issue and demand the release of the students as soon as possible.” Secretary of IMA, Gurgaon, Dr Sarika Verma, said, “This is quite unsettling in a country where Gandhi has given Satyagraha. Students were forcibly evicted from their own college at 3 am. There were so few women police officers. This is nothing more than harassment by a government that is insensitive.” Dr Verma told EdexLive.
The Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) has also poured in their solidarity for the students with tweets. Sharing one of the videos of male cadres lifting female students off from the protest site, FAIMA’s Twitter handle tweeted: “#PGIMS_ROHTAK MBBS Students arrested,harassed and brutally dragged by police! No female constable to arrest female students! #BOND_FREE_INDIA
This is totally violation of "Right To Equality" Only Doctors are being forced to work as #BondedLabour! @cmohry @anilvijminister”.
The Association of Resident Doctors’ of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (RDAAIIMS), New Delhi, posted their press release with the tweet saying, ”@AIIMSRDA stands in solidarity with the medical students of Haryana in protesting the steep fee hike in govt medical colleges & associated bond conditions. These conditions take medical education away from the poor & backward students and make MBBS only a subject for the wealthy.” The press release, which is dated November 4, condemns the action of the government which they call “high-handed and barbaric”.
Is medical education a right of the rich?
All the organisations from the medical fraternity echo each other in their concerns and condemnations. Dr Sarika Verma said that the government is trying to make medical education the right of the rich. This policy, everyone claims, will not only become a financial burden on all these students but also hamper the meritocracy of the qualifying exams.