People of Bengal were recently witness to a Doctor’s strike which dominated the media attention for days on end. In this light, the July screening of People’s Film Collective tried foregrounding political conversations between progressive histories of health movements and the contemporary situation of health practice in India today. Two films – Ek Maut: Kuchh Sawal (2018) directed by Asim Chaudhuri and Sibananda Mukherjee, and Pahli Avaz (2014) by Ajay TG were scheduled to be screened – both of which focus differently on the Shaheed Hospital in Dalli-Rajhara, Chattisgarh. The evening also promised a much-awaited conversation with Dr. Kafeel Khan.
Dr. Shankar Guha Niyogi was murdered two years before I was even born – as a kid, the only way I could learn about his struggles was through fond remembrances within the family and beyond. Ek Maut: Kuchh Sawal revives all those not-so-distant memories of his life, struggle, and his brutal murder. Spanning over years, the film recalls the history of the health-movement in Chattisgarh mining area led by Dr. Guha Niyogi by tracing the conversations of three former doctors at the Shaheed Hospital. The Bhilai industrial belt, at the wake of new industrialization drives, took to workers-peasants unity and established a new trade union, Chhattisgarh Mines Sramik Sangh in 1977. The Shaheed hospital was integrally connected to the politics of the mining workers and invested to ensure free health for all, at the face of direct industrial/ governmental intervention. The murder of Dr. Guha Niyogi was, of course, an act of retaliation to curb down on the trade union resistance in Chattisgarh. The conversations which the former doctors engage in, remind us of crucial issues regarding universal health care in regions like Chattisgarh where health movements deliberately remain outside the purview of media coverage. These conversations also remind us of the everyday stakes in those doctors’ lives who make the political choice of working with peasants, workers, and the underprivileged to ensure their access to healthcare.
The film was followed by a discussion with Dr. Kafeel Khan who was arrested in UP under the Yogi Adityanath government in connection with the death of multiple kids in 2017 when the hospital ran out of bottled oxygen and he chose to work with them. Kafeel Khan, in a poignant recollection of his struggles voiced the hypocrisy of the mainstream opposition parties – all of which sent him best wishes but were absent from his every day struggle. He narrated how he had to pawn all his property, jewellery and the limited savings to fight his way out of the charges imposed on him. At the same time, he also criticized the role IMA played in dealing with his case – the same IMA which was quick to call for a nation-wide strike during the recent health care debacle was absolutely silent in issuing any statement of support or a show of solidarity. Dr Kafeel Khan also foregrounded the crucial issues of communal divide in UP which has been made crucial only recently with the “politics of divide” which the ruling party has been effectively playing in UP and the rest of the country.
The conversations were able to strike a chord with the flooding audience at Jogesh Mime Academy who participated in very lively, and occasionally emotional comments, questions and show of support. Finally, he urged everyone to actively take part in the political and social struggles happening all over the country, and to resist the BJP-RSS nexus with all our might in the context of West Bengal.
Report by Jigisha Bhattacharya