The state has recently been witnessing skirmishes between the government and the opposition over the issue of revision of fees in the self financing medical education sector.
The opposition went on a war path with its three legislators going on indefinite fast .Assembly proceedings were stalled. Student unions owing allegiance to the opposition had many institutions suspend classes. Citizens in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital had to put up with the ordeal of yet another Hartal, Kerala’s famous ‘protest machine’. The police beat up students on the streets, spilling blood. Witnessing this mayhem, I recalled the ‘revolution’ I was part of, as medical student in late 1990s, at medical College, Kottayam. My batch witnessed two major strikes.
The first one was against a government decision to allow postgraduate course in Ophthalmology in the private sector. Medical students under the banner of Kerala Medicos Association (KMA) considered this decision wrong, as the decision to allow postgraduate course in Ophthalmology in a private hospital would throw open medical education to voracious money launderers in the form of private hospitals. KMA’s fears were realized much later, considering the numerous ‘medical colleges’ that have mushroomed in every wayside kiosk these days.
The next strike was against a government decision to include syllabus of disciplines like General Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology taught in allopathic medicine(famously called ‘modern medicine’), in the curricula of indigenous medical systems like Ayurveda and homoeopathy. The KMA claimed the move would dilute the strength and sanctity of individual medical systems, and also make a mess of medical education in the state. Violence was never our style because we had no political leanings. The ‘support’ offered by opposition parties and their cronies was cold-shouldered. The strikes were a welcome break from a drab existence within the pages of voluminous textbooks, somnolent lecture classes, and grueling clinical postings. We took to the streets wearing the proverbial white coat, holding placards, and shouting slogans. We marched in single file, not disrupting traffic. We took to the Main Central Road, blocking KSRTC buses to stencil our slogans and demands on them. We daring ‘boys’ were watched by our female counterparts, with ‘appreciation’ of our heroics, for so we thought! Our seniors made sure the buses were left off quickly after they were adequately stenciled. The naïve ‘revolutionaries’ looked sheepish before the disapproving eyes of the passengers. Our parents were oblivious of the theatrics indulged in by their wards, who they thought were busy ‘doing medicine’ within the revered halls of the medical college. We distributed pamphlets inside train compartments to ‘educate’ the public of our demands. We stuck posters in the dark of the night on available space, away from the prying eyes of the government’s police, fuelled by black coffee and omelet from thattukadas. We picketed the Collectorate and the Mahatma Gandhi University to press home our demands to the powers-that-be, from where we would be arrested. At the police station, we made sure our wrong identity details viz name, address, parents’ names were entered in the police records. Relay fasts were resorted to. When the strikes seemed to drag on, the house-surgeons, postgraduate students and our teachers joined the strike to support the younger medicos. On these occasions, parallel OPs and pharmacies were conducted outside the Medical college Outpatient to ease the difficulty faced by the public. It was ensured that routine ward work and operations were unaffected. These strikes were instrumental to have the government shelve the ill-advised policies, at least temporarily. Our success was largely because main stream political parties were kept out. Strikes were fun those days, a welcome break from mundane routine. No stone was thrown and no blood was shed. No tear gas or water cannon were used to disperse us. There was no need to. The only casualty was our course which lagged by at least a year; the gains being the numerous female hearts we ‘revolutionaries’ won along the way!