Opinion | Doctors can play a key role in defusing distress in conflict zones

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]RITISH medical journal Lancet in its latest publication dated August 17 carried an editorial commentary, “Fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s future”. It highlighted the health impact of ongoing restrictions in Valley after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Similar situations occur anywhere there is conflict, external or internal. In such circumstances, however, a doctor is always duty bound morally, ethically and professionally to give care to the people irrespective of any consideration of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing. Prime objective of the medical profession is to render service to humanity; reward or financial gain is a subordinate consideration. The pride of the medical profession lies in the fact that it does not discriminate. Medical professionals are obliged even under threat, not to use medical knowledge contrary to the laws of the humanity. The health of patient is the first consideration. Many doctors around the world have given their lives saving their ideals at the hands of either the security forces or the terrorists but refused to yield to pressures.

Keeping the commitment, the medical professionals have engaged in the service of humanity in complex situations. They have come forward to mitigate the health impacts in the event of crisis both in the situations of natural or man made disasters and in the events of external conflicts or internal strife. Lot many doctors from around the globe are working in Yemen to help those, affected by the violence. Established in 1863, the Red Cross operates worldwide, helping people affected by conflict and armed violence and promoting the laws that protect victims of war. It has the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees.

The international conventions give the Red Cross a broad right of initiative. In non-international armed conflicts, the ICRC enjoys a right of humanitarian initiative recognized by the international community and enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions. In the event of internal disturbances and tensions, and in any other situation that warrants humanitarian action, the ICRC also enjoys a right of initiative, which is recognized in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Thus, wherever international humanitarian law does not apply, the ICRC may offer its services to governments without that offer constituting interference in the internal affairs of the State concerned. It has sought to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the conflicts that have marked the second half of the 20th century – starting with Israel and Palestine in 1948.

Bhai Kanhaiya (1648-1718), was a Sikh of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Bhai Sahib was born in a Dhamman Khatri family of Sodhara near Wazirabad in Sialkot district (now in Pakistan). His father was a wealthy trader, but he himself being of a religious bent of mind left home when still very young and roamed about with sadhus and ascetics in search of spiritual peace.

During the frequent sallies and skirmishes between the Sikhs and the enemy, Bhai Kanhaiya was often seen carrying a mashak (a sort of pouch made of goat’s skin that was used to carry water from one place to another), to serve water to anyone who was thirsty. He took upon the task of quenching the thirst of the wounded soldiers in the battle of Anandpur Sahib in 1704 He did this sewa with love and affection without any discrimination between the Guru’s Sikh soldiers and the Mughal armies’ soldiers.

Bhai Kanhaiya’s act of compassion stirred up stern criticism amongst his fellow Sikhs, who went ahead and complained to Guru Gobind Singh, pointing out that Bhai Kanhaiya was serving water to the wounded soldier’s from the enemy camp. They were especially annoyed because the Mughals had surrounded the city and stopped all their food supplies, and here was Bhai Kanhaiya sharing with them what little water they had. They had tried to stop him many a time, but he would not pay any heed.

Guru Ji said, “These brave Sikhs are saying that you go and feed water to the enemy and they recover to fight them again – Is this true?” Bhai Kanhaiya replied “Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But Maharaj, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I only saw human beings. And, … Guru Ji, .. they all have the same God’s Spirit? – Guru Ji, have you not taught us to treat all God’s people as the same?”

Guru ji smiled and blessed Bhai Kanhaiya. Guru Ji said, “Bhai Kanhaiya, You are right. You have understood the true message of Gurbani”. He then continued and told the Sikhs that Bhai Kanhaiya had understood the deeper message of the Gurus’ teachings correctly and that they all have to strive to learn lessons from the priceless words of Gurbani.

Guru also gave Bhai Kanhaiya medical Balm and said “From now on, you should also put this balm on the wounds of all who need it”‘

Several medical organisations are following the footsteps and ideals of Red Cross and Bhai Kanhaiya. Medecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) treats people where the need is greatest in the most adverse situations even under threat to their lives. Indian Doctors for Peace and Development has been proactive in providing medical aid to the affected during disasters in Kashmir, Uttrakhand, Nepal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala etc.

There is a growing realization now among the medical professionals that the academic activity has to be coordinated with the public activity. The medical journals are now engaging outside the boundaries of academics on the public health concerns. Latest Lancet publication dated August 17 is an example of that. The British Medical Journal has already taken over to study the humanitarian impact of nuclear war. They organized a south Asia Consultation on this issue in Dubai in May.

Healthcare professionals can play a significant role in providing care to the sick and the infirm in conflict situations. They can also play an important role in defusing the tension between the warring groups. (IPA Service)


Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal.

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