THE young doctors’ protest initially was a trade unionist agitation in Punjab — one waged without a proper organisational structure, though. The doctors wanted an increase in their perks and reasonable working hours. The protesters were advised restraint in the interest of patients, and the provincial government, too, drew its share of criticism for failing to intervene promptly. Many of the demands made by the Young Doctors’ Association were genuine — which the stubborn government took its time to concede. Finally, towards the end of 2012, a solution appeared likely and the government agreed to a new service structure, having committed itself to a raise earlier. The government says it is gradually implementing the new package.
Yet the doctors remain on the street, holding a hunger camp in Lahore. The government has been angry or suspicious of the strikers’ aim. Last Sunday it allowed the brutal use of police force in order to contain the protest. This was an ugly development and the consequent scenes at the hospitals shut by the young doctors in reaction were even grimmer. Once again familiar calls to the conscience and for a quick resolution to the problem were made. Yesterday’s trade unionists claim to have taken the next step in their struggle: they say they are now fighting for a better deal for the patients — asking for uninterrupted supply of free medicines, provision of medical tests free of charge, etc. The telling part is that the biggest losers of the campaign are the same people the strikers say they are fighting for. The assault on the protesters’ camp on Sunday is condemnable, but surely there has to be a new, less destructive strategy which rids the doctors of the label of habitual agitators. Egos have to be curbed on both sides, and quickly to prevent more suffering at the hospitals.