India’s anti-virus heroes say there’s no place for them at home

An Indian doctor checks the body temperature of a girl after completing 14-days of quarantine at a hotel during government-imposed nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in the outskirts of Srinagar on April 1, 2020. (AFP / Tauseef Mustafa)
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Updated 02 April 2020

India’s anti-virus heroes say there’s no place for them at home

  • Health workers complain of discrimination from residents who fear they are COVID-19 carriers

NEW DELHI: Dr. Sanjibani Panigrahi has always taken pride in being a doctor. As a medical professional and psychiatrist, she is used to being treated with respect. However, this has changed since concern about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread across the country.

 “Today, I don’t feel comfortable revealing my profession to a property dealer and unknown people lest I’m denied the space in the new housing society where I’m trying to move in,” said Dr Panigrahi, who works at a city hospital in Surat, in the western state of Gujarat.

She says the problem began on March 23 when people from her residential locality denied her access to the gated community which she lives in, for fear that she may be a virus-carrier due to her profession.

“I don’t even deal with the virus-affected patients in the hospital. They threatened me. I was shocked that the people who never had any problem with me suddenly started treating me as a pariah,” Dr Panigrahi said, adding that soon after the incident, she started looking for a new home elsewhere.

To raise awareness on the topic, she tweeted about her experience on March 23 and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the post.

It led to the intervention of a local legislator from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who addressed the issue and assuaged the fears and anger of the residents.

That, however, was not enough to allay Dr Panigrahi’s fears who says she “still feels the tension” from people around her.

“Earlier, people would easily provide a rented house to a medical professional, but now I feel uncomfortable in revealing my identity lest they don’t give me space,” she said.

Dr Panigrahi is not alone in feeling this.

In the past ten days there have been several complaints from doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who said they felt stigmatized or shunned by others for fear of being infected.

“People identify us by our dress. We always felt proud walking on the street. But now landlords ask us to vacate our houses. They believe that the doctors are carriers of the coronavirus,” a junior doctor from the MGM hospital in Warangal, a district in the southern state of Telangana told Arab News on the condition of anonymity.

Nursing staff from other hospitals shared similar experiences.

“My landlady would usually interact with me when I returned from the hospital, but these days she won’t look at me. She has indirectly asked me to vacate the house,” said Latha Kumari, a Chennai-based nurse.

Several doctors and nurses working at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a premier medical institute in the national capital of New Delhi, also complained of forced evictions.

It led the Resident Doctors’ Association of the AIIMS to appeal to the prime minister on March 24 “to release an order prohibiting landlords/owners from evicting the tirelessly working doctors and other healthcare professional from rented houses.”

The doctors’ association from the western state of Maharashtra has also flagged the issue.

 “We are doing the work regardless of personal safety and have been at the receiving end,” Avinash Bhondwe, from the Maharashtra chapter of New Delhi-based Indian Medical Association (IMA), said. “The fear is such that doctors’ clinics in residential areas in cities like Pune have been asked to shut. Recently a hospital was forced by the local people to shut down after a patient was found to be carrying coronavirus.”

PM Modi reacted to the issue on March 25 when he said he had “received news from some quarters that has deeply hurt me. I appeal to all citizens, if you see ill-treatment being meted out to any medical staff, please go there and make people understand what they are doing is wrong.”

He said that “in this time of crisis, any person wearing a white coat in a hospital is an incarnation of God. It is these people who are saving us all from death. They are putting their lives in danger to do so.”

Dr Loveleen Mangla, of Noida-based Metro Hospital and Cancer Institute, said that the treatment meted out to doctors and frontline workers has been nothing short of “disgusting.”

“It is really disgusting to see all these reports of social discrimination that I have never seen before. We are also putting our lives in danger by treating coronavirus-infected people”.

 “Many of my colleagues working in different hospitals are also quarantined because they got infected attending to patients. This is our job to look after the people. We cannot say no,” said Mangla, who is a pulmonologist. “The panic due to the virus is causing this abnormal behaviour among some people. Many have got cured of this virus because of our efforts and people should understand that.”

Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

Updated 5 min 43 sec ago

Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

  • Unrest follows police killing of George Floyd
  • FBI and US Justice Department investigating death  

CHICAGO: Minneapolis exploded into riots and arson this week after an African-American suspected of handling counterfeit money was killed on Monday during his arrest by two city police officers.

Videos on social media showed an officer placing his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed and being restrained on the street by the kerb. The 46-year-old said that he could not breathe, but police insisted that Floyd was “resisting arrest” and had to be forcibly restrained.

Floyd was pronounced dead at the scene and his family immediately called for an independent investigation, reflecting a growing number of incidents of police brutality against African-Americans in the US.

His family turned to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who said the family’s first concern was to seek an autopsy independent of the police because of a lack of trust in law enforcement and to give their deceased family member a proper funeral.

“Is it two justice systems in America?” Crump said as he addressed the media. “One for black America and one for white America? We can’t have that. We have to have equal justice for the United States of America and that’s what I think the protesters are crying out for.”

Protests spread across the country and turned violent as arson destroyed property, including the police station where the police officers were assigned.

President Donald Trump denounced the rioters as “thugs” and warned that he might send in the military “to take control.” 

Minneapolis Police handed the investigation into Floyd’s death to the FBI and US Justice Department on Thursday night.

“On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 p.m., officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence,” according to the police department’s account of what happened on May 25.

“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

Officials from the FBI and US Justice Department promised that the probe would be “robust and meticulous.”

“The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter,” US Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement.

“The Federal investigation will determine whether the actions by the involved former Minneapolis Police Department officers violated federal law. It is a violation of federal law for an individual acting under color of law to willfully deprive another person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

’Anger and sadness’

The media’s role in the protests that followed Floyd’s came sharply into focus when, early on Friday, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested along with his TV crew.

Minneapolis had deployed police officers in the 3rd Precinct near the burned-down police station, in anticipation of another day of riots and arson. They were trying to clear the area when they asked Jimenez to leave.

Jimenez told police as he prepared to do a live report: “We are getting out of your way.” 

But the journalist began his report instead of leaving, prompting police to say he was under arrest.

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, who looked on as her colleague was being arrested, told viewers: “If you are just tuning in you are watching our correspondent Omar Jimenez being arrested by state police in Minnesota. We are not sure why our correspondent is being arrested.”

The camera crew was arrested after refusing to leave and trying to continue the live CNN report.

The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, urged for calm and restraint following the violence.

“What we have seen over the last two days and the emotion ridden conflict over last night is the result of so much built up anger and sadness,” he tweeted. “Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community not just because of five minutes of horror, but four hundred years. If you are feeling that sadness and that anger it is not only understandable it is right. It is the reflection of the truth of what our black community has lived.”

Frey urged “our non-black communities” to understand the rage from African- American citizens around the US and not just in Minneapolis.

The Washington D.C-based US Council of Muslim Organizations urged Muslims across the country to pray for Floyd’s family and condemned the officers’ conduct.  

“Minneapolis police officers marked Memorial Day by suffocating an utterly subdued black man named George Floyd to death as he pleaded with his last stifled words for the right to breathe. They snuffed out the light of his life with a knee on his neck, collapsing his trachea. They killed him in broad daylight. They killed him over a slow seven minutes. They killed him while contemptuously mocking the helpless bystanders pleading for mercy, for humanity, for George Floyd’s expiring life. They killed him even after Floyd had died by continuing to kneel on his limp, lifeless body for another two minutes.”