The Madhya Pradesh police on Thursday, December 3, brutally lathicharged protesting COVID-19 health workers in Bhopal. Over 500 health workers have been protesting for four days at Bhopal's Neelam Park, demanding regularisation of their jobs. Fifteen protesters and a few policemen, including a station in-charge, were injured during the clashes between the police and the protesters.
A total of 6,213 health workers were appointed by the Madhya Pradesh government in April 2020 on a contractual basis for three months. Their contract was later renewed for a total of nine months as the COVID-19 crisis in the state escalated. Their contracts end on December 31. With the date of the termination of their services approaching closer, the health workers started a dharna demanding that the state government regularise their jobs.
On Thursday, the police reached the spot and asked the protesters to vacate the area. When the health workers refused to obey the order, the police lathi charged in an attempt to clear them out. The protesters have claimed that 30 protesters, including two pregnant women, were injured in the police lathicharge and hundreds of demonstrators have been jailed, a claim that has been denied by the administration.
According to the authorities, the police vacated the venue without using any force and around 30 people were detained for resisting police action. However, the pictures and videos of the police action going viral on social media show the opposite, with the police launching a brutal attack on the protesters.
Humble request to CM MP @ChouhanShivraj &@DrPRChoudhary @mohdsuleman @iamsanjaygoyal@drsathishias
To take action a/g MP police who brutally beaten our#COVID WARRIORS with lathis while having peaceful protest IN Bhopal (MP)
STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST DOCTOR'S
SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS pic.twitter.com/f7SIqYXWK3
— Dr Amarinder Singh Malhi AP/DM/SR AIIMS, New Delhi (@drasmalhi) December 3, 2020
Yogesh Raghvanshi, one of the protesters and a COVID-19 health workers, told The Free Press Journal, “We were peacefully demonstrating as we were given permission to remain on premises till 4:00 pm today. But police resorted to lathi charge around 3:00 pm. Nearly 30 colleagues including two pregnant women, were injured and hundred were jailed.”
Jahangirabad Teshsildar Devendra Chaudhary told media, “No lathi-charge took place at the venue. Health workers were removed from Neelam Park and around 30-35 demonstrators have been jailed.”
The health workers have been trying to meet Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to speak about their issues. However, they are yet to receive an appointment with the CM. They have already approached the state health minister Dr Prabhuram Chaudhary and apprised him of their woes.
The healthcare system in Madhya Pradesh was severely understaffed even before the onset of the ongoing pandemic. The number of total specialists required in the community health centres across the state is 1,236. According to the Rural Health Statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, out of these, only 248 doctors are in position across the state, while 80% of the posts remain empty. This explains why the state government had to hire contractual workers to deal with the crisis. While the contracts for the doctors has been extended, the contracts for the health workers have been terminated.
Commenting on the issue, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath told media, “Corona warriors are being felicitated all over the world as they gave yeoman service during pandemic risking their own lives. But, Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government is raining lathis on the corona health workers who were voicing their genuine demand. Instead of considering their demands, the government rained lathis, and this cannot be justified.”
Madhya Pradesh has so far recorded around 2.10 lakh cases of COVID-19, with around 3,300 deaths. The state is currently seeing a surge in cases just as India's overall daily infection numbers have reduced to lowest since July.
Healthcare workers have been bearing the brunt of COVID-19 in Madhya Pradesh since the beginning of the pandemic, with several doctors and other healthcare workers falling prey to the disease in the state.