[STATE OF NATION’S HEALTH] Hate Crime is a Public Health Issue

Recently, the American College of Physicians (ACP) recognised Hate Crimes as a Public Health issue. It decided to oppose prejudice or discrimination, hate crimes, or any legislation made against anyone based on race, ethnicity, ancestry, gender identity, nationality language, socioeconomic status, cultural background, age, disability or religion.

What do we doctors in India need to learn from them? While a Modi-fied government seems to be pushing India’s public health into private hands thanks to its belief in unleashing India’s economy in the same style as the US does for its medical services, isn’t it surprising that none of us can imagine our premier physicians’ organisation, the Indian Medical Association taking up such a cause even in the next few decades? In fact history shows that a large chunk of it’s leadership which is right-wing, may actually aid and abet the hate!

ENVIRONMENT OF HATE & IT’S HEALTH IMPLICATIONS

An environment that promotes a hate of the “other,” – the “other” being constructed based on the food one eats, the clothes one wears, the colour of your skin, the language they speak, the chink in the eye, the team that you cheer, or the country that manufactures what you buy – reduces access to medical facilities for the minorities or the ‘other.’ It reduces avenues to freely trade or get jobs or residences for the “other” which in turn reduces spare income to buy emergency private medical care. It leads to ghettoization that may reduce girls’ movement and hence their education, which is the most important factor in reducing infant mortality, more than the number of doctors or hospitals in an area! Hate makes people conscious about their security, worsens anxiety and brings on mental illnesses. It makes bodies produce more steroids, that worsen diseases and death rates.

As doctors, we all try to save lives. That is our job and our calling. With public health lens, we are supposed to look at everything possible to prevent deaths in large numbers. As Hate tends to worsen death rates, isn’t it obvious that as doctors we must lead people and policies against anything that may promote Hate? It is one thing to promote swadeshi or vegetarianism – Gandhi being the finest example for us – but quite the other in forcing it on another, especially with violence!

As a public health physician staying in a rural area of Bodoland in Assam, I was happy when the National Rural Health Mission was launched and brought medical access to some of the most interior areas of Assam and other places in the Northeast. The expansion of public health facilities with the money that a resurgent India could earn and spend on rural areas was something we couldn’t imagine would happen in our lifetime.

But these days being part of the same resurgent India, it pains me to watch hate-peddling TV channels that have mushroomed in the name of free media, where many speakers cower in fear and shame to openly air their views. The news of people getting abused or killed for what they eat or how they dress unnerves me. The constant whipping up of some hysteria or the other, creating one new windmill after another for Don Quixote to hate and kill, makes my stomach churn. It is one thing to love your country, but it is quite another to hate anyone who loves another’s country too! Hate against the neighbour or against the “other” seems to have become as important as Aadhar to be identified as a patriotic Indian!

What use would all the immunisation campaigns, the nutrition supplementation programmes, the drive to institutionalise all deliveries and the education programmes come to, if the crop of hate grows only to be harvested in wars with Pakistan or China? Would India be seen to be healthy if so many of its immunised and educated children grow into people who are then killed or injured in a civil war or a war with its neighbours?

As doctors we need to rise to the occasion just like the ACP did and question why an atmosphere of hate is being created by some people and is being abetted by the media, because Public Health is about peace, tolerance, honesty and love as much as it is for affordable medical care and universal access to health facilities for all! Come on doctors, health professionals and others, let us campaign against Hate!

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Dr. Sunil Kaul Written by:

Dr. Sunil Kaul completed his MBBS in Pune and served as a medical doctor in the army for some years before he went on to become a public health activist. He worked in rural Rajasthan and Assam especially with respect to malaria and T.B.. He is the founding trustee of The Action Northeast Trust (ANT). He has an MSc in Public Health (in Developing Countries) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a faculty member of Institute of Development Action (IDeA). He is also Financial Advisor of Aagor Daagra Afad, Trustee at Lowcost Standard Therapeutics, consultant to Community Health Initiative of Meghalaya, Rural Development Society and Advisor (Assam) to the Commissioners for Right to Food.
He lives in Rowmari in Bodoland, Assam

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