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‘Doctors in naxal-hit areas subjected to unwritten rules'

Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: A large number of doctors posted in the Naxal-infested areas of Chhattisgarh say that while they are generally permitted to stay and practise in and rarely face direct personal harm, they are subjected to harsh unwritten rules imposed by insurgent groups, typically referred to as “insiders” or meaning those dwelling in camps deep inside the forests, which cover large tracts of rural parts.

A qualitative research study on “Factors Influencing Decisions to Serve in Rural and Remote Areas of Chhattisgarh State,” conducted by the Public Health Foundation of India, the National Health Systems Resource Centre and the State Health Resource Centre (Chhattisgarh) shows that the movement of doctors in the strife-torn areas is widely limited to fear of being caught or left stranded by incidents of violent conflict; and also of capture and punishment if they venture into “restricted” areas while on field visits.

Insurgents are also widely reported to be responsible for restricting access and communications in remote areas. Telephone lines and mobile signal towers are not permitted to be erected, and roads are mined and road-making equipment burnt and vandalised where they could have led to increased access to remote areas controlled by Naxalites, says the study.

Several respondents cited instances of militants taking possession of large quantities of medical supplies and medicines for their own use; and some of them being roused from their homes and taken at gunpoint into forest-camps to treat ill and injured members of the groups. There are numerous accounts of such encounters, but the respondents prefer that these stay off record.

Besides the presence of “insiders,” there is also a strong presence of counter-insurgent groups and armed forces of the government in these regions – and these, along with the Naxal activists represent a collective context of military presence and strife in the lives of villages, and the insecurity experienced by the health personnel.

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