Why I cannot celebrate National Doctor’s Day

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Today, 1st July is celebrated in India as National Doctor’s Day.

A doctor is a healer, and a doctor’s profession is truly a noble one. But what is the scenario today about the medical profession? What is the public perception of doctors? Unfortunately, it is a grim one, and many people have a poor opinion of doctors.

While there are many upright doctors, a huge number of them have become totally commercialized, and only look for ways of making money by hook or crook. Ethics has taken a back seat for them. It reminds one of George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘ A Doctor’s Dilemma ‘ and Robin Cook’s novel ‘ Coma’.

Some doctors are hand in glove with pharmaceutical companies and prescribe only the drugs manufactured by them. A few were even said to be involved in removing the kidneys of people and selling them. Some prescribe tests that are unnecessary, obviously getting a commission from diagnostic centers. Several instances of malpractices by doctors are mentioned in the above link.

I remember when I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court about 30 years back I was in a hospital where a doctor said he will operate on a patient to remove his appendix only if he is paid Rs.1000. The patient’s family was poor, and could somehow collect Rs. 900, but the doctor refused to operate until he was given another Rs.100. I took out Rs. 100 from my pocket and gave it to the doctor, and only then did he operate. Is this observing the Hippocratic oath?

Medical care is almost non-existent for the poor people in India. In rural India, where 60-65% of our people live, state governments have established primary health clinics ( PHC ). But the government doctors who are supposed to attend them usually live in the cities, and often come to the PHC only once or twice a month, and on other days run their private clinics in the towns where they live.

There are many state-of-the-art hospitals in Delhi and other cities, but can poor people afford to go there? Private clinics give good treatment but are exorbitantly expensive. And the less said about most of the govt. hospitals the better. Even AIIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi look like railway stations, no one caring for the huge crowds of poor people. So where do the poor people go when they fall ill ? They often go to quacks. Quackery has increased by leaps and bounds in many parts of India, and the number of quacks would be many times more than the qualified doctors.

The great Hindi poet Rahim has written
दीन सभन को लखत हैं, दीनहि लखय न कोए
जो रहीम दीनहि लखय, दीनबन्धु सम होए
“The poor seek help from everyone, but no one helps the poor
He who helps the poor becomes like God ”
(In Hindi literature God is often called ‘ Deenbandhu ‘ i.e. friend of the poor)

Doctors should be reminded of the great Dr.B.C.Roy, whose birthday it is today, and on which day Doctors Day is celebrated every year. He was awarded F.R.C.S. and M.R.C.P. degrees from England, and coming back to India had a roaring medical practice of about Rs. 50,000 p.m. in those days ( which would be equivalent perhaps to Rs. 20 lacs p.m. today ). But he gave it all up to take up a Chief Minister’s job on a salary of Rs. 500 p.m. And even as the Chief Minister, he would attend to poor patients for an hour or two daily free of charge ( see my blog on him).


Doctors should also take inspiration from the life of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis who sacrificed his life in serving the Chinese people during their fight against the Japanese invaders ( see my blog on him ).

They should also take inspiration from Dr. Binayak Sen, an M.D. from Vellore Medical College who could have easily gone to America and earned tons of money there ( as many Indian doctors are doing ), but chose instead to serve the poorest of the poor in remote areas in Chattisgarh

Until most doctors change their ways, I regret I cannot celebrate Doctors Day.