Prejudice versus humanity – editorials
The Center has significantly strengthened legal protection for frontline health workers in light of persistent attacks on them, even as they fight coronavirus disease (Covid-19). By amending the outdated Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, the government has made attacks on health workers a non-bail crime, streamlined the duration of the investigation, instituted a prison sentence for those convicted of up to seven years, and set fines ranging from Rs 2 to Rs 5 lakh. The ordinance will cover credentialed doctors, nurses, paramedics and health social workers, who have faced increasing attacks as their work makes them “carriers” of the virus. Housing companies have denied them accommodation; have been physically attacked; and, in a particularly heartbreaking case, the mobs attacked the ambulance carrying the body of a doctor, who had died in the line of duty, to his burial site. The proposal to appoint nodal officers to record any concerns health workers have regarding their safety is also welcome.
Misinformation on social media, ignorance, prejudice, and disregard for the law have contributed to the appalling stigma. To its credit, the government has consistently praised the role of health workers and has emphasized their indispensable role in fighting the virus. The Prime Minister himself has taken the lead with his public calls to honor health workers.
The government must now widely disseminate the ordinance provisions using all the tools at its disposal. Political parties should use their extensive tables to inform constituents of the new measures. Much will depend on the effectiveness of implementation, which has often been a gap in law enforcement. The government will need to increase the security presence both at medical facilities and abroad while conducting detection operations. But in the end, this is not just a matter of legal safeguards; It is a moral imperative that we respect and protect those who are saving lives at great risk to their own. This is a proof of Indian society and its values; prejudice and irrationality should never allow themselves to conquer humanity and science.