Can a doctor tell if the Coronavirus has a religion?

Ahmedabad Civil Hospital is accused of splitting COVID19 wards on faith, calls it govt decision

corona virus

“I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course… Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm…” , an interpretation of lines from the Hippocratic Oath that remind doctors of their duty to help the sick, and never intend to do wrong. It is not a legal oath, it is an ethical mantra that doctors the world over invoke, in different versions, to help their patients overcome illness of any sort.

Doctors are often held in great reverence, especially by patients who trust their judgment and surrender to their informed decisions. They are also hailed as brave frontline workers helping the world deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. In India specially, where the supply of personal Protection equipment is low, most citizens are worried for the health and safety of doctors working in the Covid wards at various designated hospitals across the country. Citizens have also stood in solidarity whenever doctors working in covid-19 wards, have faced any discrimination at the hands of the ignorant few. 

But what is a citizen, and an unwell one at that, to do when the doctor starts discriminating, against the patient’s religion. News that a  Civil hospital in Ahmedabad, which had earmarked 1,200 beds for COVID-19 patients, segregated its wards on the basis of religion, shocked everyone. Muslim patients were sent to one ward, and Hindus patients were sent to another. This was first reported in the Indian Express. When questioned by IE the hospital authorities apparently told the reporter that this segregation had been done according to a government’s decision. 

By evening on April 15, as the news got more attention, the authorities tried to reason that this segregation was just to isolate those patients who had come in contact with some Covid19 positive cases. According to them it was a mere coincidence that all those separated were Muslims. 

“Seriously, this is too much of a coincidence no?” asked a Gujarat based lawyer. The administration is yet to explain how segregation resulted in a ‘Hindu’ ward as well. Did all the Hindus in the other have zero contact with any Covid19 positive patients? Why was the other ward not a mixed one in any case? According to the general Coronavirus protocol followed by hospitals, a patient showing signs of having COVID-19 is kept away from confirmed cases till his or her medical test results are pending.  Further treatment, and nature of hospitalisation, or isolation, is decided by doctors after the results are in. An entire block at theAhmedabad Civil Hospital had been designated a COVID-19 centre, to cater to cases from the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar zone.

According to the IE report around 150 of the 186 people admitted in the hospital for coronavirus are positive and at least 40 of those 150 are Muslims.

The IE had quoted the civil Hospital’s Medical Superintendent Dr Gunvant H Rathod, as saying, they did have “separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients”. Dr Rathod, had said that this was a government  decision and only the government can answer why they took it. “It is a decision of the government and you can ask them,” the IE quotes him.

However, Gujarat’s Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel said he did not have any knowledge of such a decision.  “I am not aware of such a decision (on wards segregated as per faith). Generally, there are separate wards for males and females. I will enquire about it,” Patel told the Express. Till late on Wednesday evening there was no confirmation if any disciplinary action had been taken against the hospital by the administration.

Of course the state administration backed the hospital’s segregations: “The health department of the government of Gujarat has clarified that no segregation is being done in civil hospital on the basis of religion. Corona patients are being treated based on symptoms, severity etc. and according to the supervising doctors’ recommendations,” posted the Ahmedabad branch of the  Press Information Bureau. Nodal agency for communicating to the media on behalf of  the Government of India



“There has been no such instruction from our side and we are not aware of any such government decision,” Ahmedabad Collector, K K Nirala also denied any knowledge of the matter when questioned by IE.

But citizens are not convinced. “We have reached a horrible low! Even in the midst of this terrible pandemic. Will punitive action be taken on those responsible for this communal anti-constitutional deed?” asked human rights activist Fr Cedric Prakash who lives in Ahmedabad and was shocked to read the news report. “it is a government hospital, therefore action must be taken.”

The incident has led to international embarrassment for Gujarat. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal government entity that monitors, analyses, and reports on threats to religious freedom posted its concerns, “USCIRF is concerned with reports of Hindu and Muslim patients separated into separate hospital wards in #Gujarat. Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatization of Muslims in #India and exacerbate false rumors of Muslims spreading #COVID19



According to a Gujarat-based expert in medico-legal cases, the hospital can now claim that they did not refuse admission or treatment on the basis of religion. But he too was appalled that a segregation on the basis of religion had been carried out. Even those suspected of being infected with the deadly Coronavirus have already been subjected to severe discrimination. 

The average Muslim citizen in India has already been dealing with hate and abuse as a bigoted section is spreading misinformation against the community blaming them for the spread of the virus. There is an active socio-economic boycot of Muslim vendors, and business in cities across India. But it is for the first time that allegations of religion-based segregation have come from a hospital chosen to treat Covid19 patients in Ahmedabad. It is said to be one of the biggest in the city.

By late night on April 15, Dr Rathod said he was “misquoted” and a photo of his letter was duly posted by news agency ANI. “The news which has appeared in some dailies has misquoted me, that “we have made separate wards for Muslims & Hindus.” This report in my name is false and baseless and I condemn it: Professor GH Rathod, surgeon, Civil Hospital, Asarwa in Ahmedabad.”  



As expected, local doctors refused to talk about the issue, perhaps in fear of a backlash from the government authorities. However a ray of hope came from a Ahmedabad resident Kalpesh Bhatia Modi, who put up a video message on Facebook, apologising to the Muslim community. “What is happening. What message are we sending to the world? This is not a message of humanity. I hope God puts some sense into the leaders who give such orders. I, as a Gujarati Hindu, seek forgiveness from the Muslim community,” Kalpesh Bhatia Modi goes on to say that he never thought such a time will come.


The IE had quoted an eyewitness account as recalled by a patient at the hospital, “On Sunday night, the names of 28 men admitted in the first ward (A-4) were called out. We were then shifted to another ward (C-4). While we were not told why we were being shifted, all the names that were called out belonged to one community. We spoke to one staff member in our ward today and he said this had been done for ‘the comfort of both communities’.”

What is this “comfort”? Did Hindu patients complain against being put in the same ward as Muslim patients? Or did the hospital administration decide to take this massive step on their own, or as they say on orders from the ‘government’?



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