Korpan Shah and the Medical Malady

A rally in Kolkata demanding justice for Korpan Shah. Source: Kolkata Today.

A rally in Kolkata demanding justice for Korpan Shah. Source: Kolkata Today.

By Pratik Deb for AlalODulal.org

The brutal death of Korpan Shah has raised enough hue and cry amid the media and public, partly because of its viciousness, and mostly because of its alleged perpetrators. Following an alleged theft of cell phone from the hostel of N.R.S. Medical College, Kolkata, the psychologically challenged Mr. Shah was lynched to death, allegedly by the students of premier institution. The autopsy report as well as unconfirmed witness report suggests that the male organ of the victim was severed first, followed fierce trouncing which led to death on the very spot. The students, the supposed carrier of the societal consciousness has allegedly committed this crime, not as an individual act, but acting as a collective. And they were medical students, hence, the hypocrisy-laden society would also have the opportunity to shout about so-called ‘medical ethics’ (which they are completely unaware of). However, the resultant sensationalisation has, successfully, moved the needle of the discussion from the true issue that is so toxic to discuss that everyone would rather argue in circles than to acknowledge the presence of the real elephant in the room.

And as a part of the medical brethren, there is something that touched a personal chord with me. Hence this is a story that has a personal bent as well as a social one.

I remember how our days in medical college started with an ‘initiation ceremony’. Students belonging to the age of around eighteen, with their dreamy eyes, somewhat naive perceptions and sensitivities would assemble in the most premier medical school of the province, to be taken around by their seniors in the hospital campus for an informal trip associated with a few pieces of advice. Like any initiation, the ritual was somewhat superfluous and redundant where the boys and girls, tired of preparing for the life would claim that the preparatory phase is over and the real life has begun already, where the blasé third year students would pour their ‘experience’ upon the green shoulders of the entering ‘kids’, where the onus of seniority would make them act as if they are world-weary although they are suffering from the same doubts and insecurities.

But anyone with any genuine perspicacity would pick up that something quintessential is different about this process, that this process is more of an inoculation than an initiation. It still haunts me to remember how effortlessly we could look over the people lying around the hospital campus, the balconies, the floors with or without any obvious disease and yet they remained invisible in the eyes of those of us pledging and training to be their care-giver.
How does that implicit agreement is reached, I wondered, how do we decide to overlook the malaise in front of our eyes talking about frivolous sweet nothings since we had nothing to talk about?

And perhaps I know why.

Most of the students, evidently from the upper-middle class background who never stepped inside of a government hospital or had not interacted with the state in any possible form, would be exposed to another dysfunctional organ of the corrupt state system, looking down upon it with the vacuous air of a master class. The government and its system, that usually remains inessential in their lives, would suddenly infringe upon their everyday routine and they are to realise and dread the imminent interaction with the underclass recipient of that system. The people whose lives are hopelessly and desperately entangled into that dysfunctional health care system, who have possibly arrived from the country-side or urban slums at the door of the ‘great’ teaching hospitals of the city, are deemed as ‘undeserving’ as best to ‘absolute nuisance’ by the class of students and physicians, majorly providing them with care.

And the grooming of insensitivity was not exclusive of the medical profession either. In a society with obscene disparity of socio-economy, with ever-increasing wealth gap and growing population of people deprived from their basic needs, the training to be and remain carefree, is an essential tool for survival for the middle-class. It serves them in their process of committing to nothing but inane pleasure and eternal comfort. So what is faced in the medical school is but an extension of the larger society where guilt is replaced, not by numbness, but disdain towards the underprivileged. The so-called ‘medical ethics’ do nothing to infringe upon the sweeping path of hegemony.

So Korpan’s death is but the symptom, the symptom of the moral depravity, not of a profession or the students, but of a class. And this is how the class warfare is waged in our everyday life, “not with a bang but a whimper”. True, there would remain other hegemonies into the mix; true, certain political wing will celebrate the fact that the victim belonged to a religious minority and hence deserved this proper punishment; true, the overwhelming prejudice towards psychologically handicapped people would peek through this heinous incidence; true, the lingual identity of the victim would bestow an added sense of ‘otherness’ to him, but at the end of the day, this would remain a class lynching.

And we would know nothing, not even the ‘centres of excellences’ belong outside of the purview of societal evils, which is why the dalit student in AIIMs commits suicide, which is why Indian Institute of Science would be called Iyer Institute of Science in the private, not because they have failed to elevate themselves from their surrounding vices, but because they have emerged from it, they are rooted into those inequities, they thrive through those immoralities and transgressions.

There can be no detached pantheon amid the inferno.

About the author: The author is a medical doctor and former independent student activist of Kolkata, currently a doctoral researcher at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

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