Why are students of Kolkata’s RG Kar Medical college protesting?

Undergraduates, postgraduates, PGTs and interns of one of Kolkata’s major government hospitals, RG Kar Medical College have been protesting since the month of June, over four demands. 

Their first demand is that of a fully functioning student union. The last student union election was held in 2017 and now, they want to restore its validity to effectively convey the grievances of students to the authorities. 

Secondly, RG Kar passed out students who are to receive precedence in the house staff ship counselling as per rules, now being disregarded in the counselling and instead students from external private medical colleges and universities are receiving preferential treatment via a non-transparent and secretive procedure.

Thirdly, they are object to the newly formed Hostel Development Committee, which only consists of the faculty members. Previously, there was another Hostel Development Committee which consisted of all hostel members and was responsible for conducting the day to day affairs of all the four hostels of RG Kar Medical College. 

Their fourth demand is the expansion of the Girls’ Hostel. The students claim that there is a significant deficiency in the Girls’ Hostels and they need to be expanded for the new batch of students to get accommodation. This request comes after the All India Quota Ladies Hostel was reportedly evacuated by the college authorities, without any prior notification to the concerned students who were at the time in the respective home states, due to lockdown. 

Suchismit Bhattacharya, a 4th-year student and Intern at RG Kar Medical College says, “We waited outside the Principal’s office for two days straight to discuss the issues, but he refused to talk to us.” 

Later, the previously evacuated All India Quota Ladies’ Hostel was restored, however, the request for expanding the Ladies’ Hostel for the incoming batch of students, was neither entertained nor an alternative was provided by the principal, Dr Sandeep Ghosh. 

As a result of this deadlock, the students began a hunger strike on October 3rd. “To threaten us, police cars were sent to our homes,” Bhattacharya claims.

Citing an incident he says, “One third-year student whose father has a chronic heart disease, fell seriously ill after seeing police cars stationed outside his home.” 

These instances of mental abuse and the inability of the college principal to meet student needs gave rise to their demand for unconditional resignation of Dr Sandeep Ghosh as Principal of RG Kar Medical College.  “He tore and threw the poster that we hung outside his office, aiming at a female student. Later, he physically kicked one of the protesting students and fled the scene”, Bhattacharya told Maktoob. 

To strengthen their voices against these instances of ill-treatment, the students organized a rally in Kolkata’s Belgachia Bridge. “Once again, we were attacked and this time, one of our juniors was left injured. Later on, we find out that the attacker was a Trinamool Congress party worker,” says Bhattacharya.

“After this, the state media started broadcasting that our protest is disrupting day to day functioning at the hospital.” he further adds. 

Responding to these allegations made in the media, Suchismit goes on to say, “The primary duty of an intern is to observe under the supervision of a senior doctor. We are not legally allowed to handle any patient on our own. So, if services are getting disrupted then I think the hospital administration should be held accountable, instead of blaming interns.”

Photo credit: Suchismit Bhattacharya

Consequently, the Director of Medical Education (DME) of West Bengal met with the students and assured them that a five- members committee will be formed which will look after the needs of the students. The students can approach this committee with any issue and it will enable communication between the students and the DME. 

To this, Bhattacharya asserts, “Given that we feel extremely unsafe with Dr Ghosh as our principal because he has made several remarks indicating that he can jeopardize our careers and now this five-member committee which will be carrying out the functions of that of a principal, we don’t understand why isn’t he stepping down as principal.”

On October 25, a PIL was filed in the Kolkata High Court stating that the ongoing agitation is harming the daily affairs at RG Kar Hospital. From October 26, as per High Court’s directive, every intern and PGT started reporting to work diligently. “ On 15th, the High Court summoned us over false claims filed by Dr. Ghosh’s lawyer that we are carrying on sloganeering.

This is untrue; we are maintaining the hospital’s silent zone, we are simply using posters to carry on the struggle. Everyone is doing their regular duties, we have signatures on daily registers to prove that. “ Suchismit adds. He slams the principal’s actions, saying, “Dr Ghosh is the one who is spreading a false narrative that we are anti-establishment, we are syndicates. We simply cannot accept him as our principal. We will continue this hunger strike because it’s clear that the college authorities don’t care if we live or die”

After a month, on November 4 RG Kar students withdrew from their hunger strike following the worsening health of two students, who ultimately had to be admitted to the Critical Care Unit. 

There have been several pleas from students for a probe into the competency of their principal and to hold him accountable for causing his pupils mental and physical tribulations. “Despite presenting them with facts and data, the Health Secretary has turned its back on us. We are ready for a fruitful and emphatic dialogue with Swasthya Bhavan (Health Authority of West Bengal) but we want a materialistic answer.

” Bhattacharya has remarked. He goes on to allege, “We know there is a supremo who is preventing our demands from being met and now, we are all just tired of this bureaucratic puzzle.”

Photo credit: Suchismit Bhattacharya

This agitation has been supported by Professors and senior doctors of the hospital as well, however, they’re finding it difficult to express their stance in public. “Our professors are under pressure from the upper ranks, so they are meeting us in secret or calling up to check on us because even doctors, professors, nursing staff, Group D staff, everyone has complaints with our principal.” Bhattacharya comments. One professor who has openly supported them is Dr Subhajit Biswas, Head of the Department of Dermatology. 

“The next court hearing is on 29th November. Right now, we are sitting for exams and preparing to become good doctors, while fighting false cases and baseless allegations.” Bhattacharya added.