Dr KC has sat for too many hunger strikes already, and the government should see to it that this is his last

The health of orthopaedic surgeon Dr Govinda KC, who is into his 19th hunger strike demanding reforms in the medical education sector, is fast deteriorating, and it would be prudent on the part of the government to hold talks with him at the earliest. He began his fast-onto-death on September 14 in Jumla and was flown to Kathmandu a week later, where he has been refusing treatment at the TU Teaching Hospital while continuing with his hunger strike. His demands resonate well with the aspirations of the general public because they have no self-interest of the doctor. The people apart, there is also tremendous support for the cause Dr KC has taken from the medical fraternity, human rights bodies and civil society, while being slammed hard by private business. During all of his previous hunger strikes, he had broken his fasts after receiving assurance from the government that his demands would be looked into, only to see just some of them being fulfilled. He went on his maiden hunger strike in 2012 in his bid to end political meddling in the medical education sector during the time of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. Since then he has faced the wraths of five other governments.

It is common knowledge that Nepal’s health and education sector, as all other sectors, is in a shamble.

And Dr KC’s lone crusade to end the irregularities in the medical education sector has paid rich dividends. Fees for general medicine and dental courses have become more affordable. The number of scholarships in government medical colleges has been increased while efforts are on to establish one government-run medical college in each of the seven provinces is ongoing.

This time around, Dr KC has demanded that the government launch the MBBS programme at Karnali Academy of Health Sciences, where he has been working following his retirement from the TU Teaching Hospital in October last year; expand the coverage of polymerase chain reaction tests for COV- ID-19; investigate corruption in the health sector; and end the prohibitory orders in the districts by making the use of face masks and physical distancing mandatory in public life.

In the last eight years, Dr KC has sat for too many hunger strikes already, and the government should see to it that this is his last. It does no good for the image of the government and the country to have this doctor go on strike time and again to bring an end to the anomalies in the medical education sector that is seeing decay due to excessive commercialisation.

But at the same time, Dr. KC would do well to stick only to those demands concerning the health and education sector and not stray into political matters.

Only this will win him kudos. His demands for action against the then chiefs of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and Nepal Oil Corporation for alleged corruption during one of his hunger strikes only diluted the cause that he was championing for. He should also understand that there are limits to what the present government can do. With the country in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought all sectors of the economy to a standstill, this was not the right time for Dr KC to start his latest hunger strike.

Dalits in debt

As many as 125 Dalit households in Katigaon village of Bheri Municipality in Jajarkot district have asked Minister of Forest and Environment Shakti Bahadur Basnet to help them write off the loans that they had taken from the local lenders. They complained that they were being displaced from their village after failing to pay back the loans they had taken at high interest rates for survival. The victims said every household has more than Rs 500,000 in debt.

Many of the youths from the underprivileged community go to India to work. But they have failed to pay back the loan with interest, which is much higher than the bank rate. If their plight is true, the government must take suitable steps to address their grievances.

Most of the Dalit families in the mid- and far-western regions do not have enough land to till.

So they have to borrow money from the local lenders, who seize whatever land they have when they fail to pay back the loans. One way to support them could be providing them with job opportunities in the agriculture, forestry and construction sectors that can easily absorb even unskilled persons.