Physician trainees prevail in strike over harassed doctor’s suicide

 

Dr. Omkar, 30-year old pediatrician trainee died by suicide after years of alleged racial harassment by head of department. Dr. Omkar is from a lower caste tribe, the only son with 2 younger sisters. Elder sister just married the day prior to his suicide. Head of department denied him leave for the wedding even though his peers agreed to cover his shifts. He was found hanging from the hospital dorm ceiling fan with the dupatta he’d bought as a wedding gift for his sister. (Most doctors in India choose this same method of suicide to end their pain).

I’m told by residents the head of department harassed all students. Omkar bore the brunt. Bullying is used to control trainees—a divide-and-conquer tactic creating fear among victims by targeting the most vulnerable. I’ve been studying doctors suicides for 10 years. Having investigated 1,710 cases, I know of many bullied residents who choose to die by suicide.

Colleagues protested outside the department head’s home——an indefinite strike—demanding her immediate arrest, compensation for family, and full investigation. Unlike US, in India doctors strike rather than return to inhumane hospitals that so often censor doctor suicides, force “resilience modules” on grieving peers, and do nothing about abuse. On day three of the strike, all their demands were met, plus a pediatric ward will be named after Dr. Omkar.

The head of department has been booked under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code—abetment to suicide. Unlike the US, India holds perpetrators accountable. Notes may even be read on the evening news and often name the culprit who is then taken down to the police station the same day.

In the US, I’ve never seen one culprit held accountable in 10 years. No media coverage. Just silence.

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