Affirmative Action: A Beacon of Hope
A couple of days back, Kiddy, our little kitten, had a bad accident, and I had to rush her to emergency care at the Tamil Nadu Government Veterinary College and Hospital. Despite all the talk and negative perceptions about the type of care given to patients in government hospitals, I had to go there because Kiddy’s condition was really serious—she was mauled by two grown-up cats; one them her own mother!
In the hospital, she was immediately attended to. Her wounds were bandaged, glucose was administered, and an x-ray was taken. In about 2–3 hours, the entire process was over and I was told to return the following day when Kiddy’s trauma would have subsided. As a young child, well even as a grown-up, visiting a medical college was something big, even if getting into one was next to impossible, what with the high cutoff marks and the near-impossible-to-crack syllabus, which only the truly brainy can aspire to be part of. And, the doctors who passed out always maintained this steely exterior of the learned, whose mere shadow venerated the ground it fell on.
Well, all my stereotypes of the doctors and medical students were about to change. Yes, there was something very strange and different about these students. They were medical students who would soon become doctors, but lacked even a trace of the hype that surrounds such students. Something has changed, yes, something definitely was different. And, it was unique to Chennai. Because, in Delhi, the medical college students participating in the much-touted, but demented agitation against reservation, were clearly different—they had this aura about being the very learned or brainy students, which only reinforced the stereotype I carried about them. But, I wonder where their brains went when they took to novel ways of agitation; they started sweeping the roads to show what will happen to them if reservation was implemented! Clearly, if I was being treated by these students, I will be treated as if I were a thing to be studied! Not as a human, who had just one life.
So, back to the Chennai medical students, who were very different in their approach—
very methodical, but with a sense of simplicity. They could have easily been a cousin or a relative. One of them was getting a syringe ready when I turned and he quietly said, sorry maam, did I spray the water on you by mistake? Such humility! The chief doctor was equally nice. So well-qualified to do her job, but with such elegance and simplicity that with just her simple hello or how are you, she could reach out.
As I was growing up, there was always talk about how doctors needed to be compassionate when they treated their patients. But, if your family atmosphere always made you feel superior to lesser mortals (the depressed classes) how can you reach out compassionately to, for example, a riot victim, a drunkard, a child rape victim, or a victim of domestic violence? Especially, if your patients come from backgrounds you have no scope of knowing or the backgrounds that you so abhor. Then, those patients will naturally become a lab specimen to be studied! But, how is that medical students in Chennai are so different today? Are they seeing a sister or a brother or an aunt in their patients? Have they become compassionate? Which, I believe, to be the first qualification to be a doctor! Is there a special paper on compassion? Or, have their backgrounds come closer to the backgrounds of the common people? I guess the latter is the reason, and it has happened because of affirmative action. The students today was naturally dark-skinned, come from government schools, talk in the local Tamil dialect (not a sankritized dialect), and do not believe in pollution (because they come from the so-called polluting or backward castes). These students are my hope for the future…a future rebuilt…a past reclaimed. No wonder, Tamil Nadu is one of the progressive states in the country. Am truly happy to come from a state that hasn’t batted an eyelid before implementing reservation. Our doctors are more effective because they combine medical science with compassion, which comes not from sympathy, but from empathy.