By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church of India has welcomed a new ordinance that criminalizes as a punishable offence attacks against healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
New Covid-19 law
The Indian government’s amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, approved on April 22, stipulates stiff jail terms and fines for violators.
"Health workers who are trying to save the country from this epidemic are unfortunately facing attacks,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on April 22. “No incident of violence or harassment, against them will be tolerated. An ordinance has been brought in, it'll be implemented after the President's sanction," he told a press conference in New Delhi.
Church welcomes measure
“The law is needed at this juncture as there were reports of ‘corona warriors’ being attacked in some states, which is very unfortunate as they are risking their lives to save us from this world pandemic,” said Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu of Visakhapatnam.
The healthcare workers “are like angels at this time of emergency who have put their duty first, not even thinking of the consequences of dealing with such a disease,” he told UCANEWS. They “are not only putting their lives at risk but their family members as well,” said the archbishop who is chairman of the Office for Health Care of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
“If we don’t appreciate them,” the archbishop said, “then we don’t even have the right to attack them as they are doing their duties religiously.”
Jail terms, fines, compensation
“If the injuries are serious, the punishment will range from six months to seven years [in jail] and carry a fine of between 100,000 and 500,000 rupees,” Javadekar told reporters.
He said that the amended law will also be invoked if healthcare workers face harassment from their landlords. The offence under the amended law will be cognizable and non-bailable, which means the police can arrest the accused and only courts can release them on bail.
The minister added that the amended law also has provisions to provide compensation for damage or loss of property of health workers.
Healthcare workers under attack
The media has been reporting numerous attacks on medical professionals in India, including sexual harassment of female doctors and nurses and police being pelted with stones, that have caused concern among health professionals and the government during the pandemic lockdown.
A video on mobs chasing and throwing stones at two female doctors in Indore went viral online. There have also been reports of many other attacks on health professionals in other states, such as Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Health workers and the families also face harassment and discrimination at home from their landlords and neighbours for fear of infection.
Healthcare professionals and workers had planned a nationwide silent protest on April 22-23 against attacks on them.
Father Paul Parathazham, director of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore, also welcomed the new law saying it “was much needed and long due as medical personnel are going through physical as well as mental stress,” which could affect their work. (Source – UCANEWS)