Two senior doctors in India have been fired after one of them publicly contradicted the police over the alleged gang rape and murder of a lower caste woman in a case that rocked the country last month.
Police in Uttar Pradesh state have denied that the 19-year-old victim of the Hathras attack was raped, citing forensic tests carried out on the victim 11 days after the attack. She succumbed to her injuries in a Delhi hospital on 29 September, 15 days after the attack took place.
Four upper caste men have been arrested over the killing and alleged gang rape. The woman, who has not been named due to Indian laws protecting the identity of sexual assault victims, was from the Dalit community, the lowest rung in the Hindu caste system, and activists say the case has brought attention to still commonplace caste-based atrocities in India.
The incident sparked protests by groups calling for justice and criticising both state and central governments – Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP is in power in both – for failing to protect members of lower caste communities. The police also drew criticism for their initial handling of the case, the swift cremation of the victim’s body without the family’s consent or presence and their heavy-handed approach with the protesters.
The two doctors who have been fired were senior medical officers at the Uttar Pradesh hospital where the Hathras victim was treated for 14 days. One of them had given an interview to the Indian Express on 5 October, stating that forensic samples taken so long after an alleged rape were of no investigative value.
Dr Mohammad Azimuddin Malik, medical officer at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College (JNMC) Hospital where the test took place, said government guidelines clearly state that useful forensic evidence can only be retrieved up to 96 hours after an incident.
Dr Malik’s statement directly contradicted the assertions made by Additional Director General (Law and Order), Prashant Kumar, who had said the forensic report showed there were no traces of sperm and hence proved that no rape took place.
Dr Malik was sacked along with his colleague Dr Obaid Imtiyazul Haque, the casualty medical officer in the same hospital which is a part of Aligarh Muslim University, in a development first reported by The Wire.
The pair were served urgent notices on 20 October saying their services were no longer required. The notices, seen by The Independent, were served by the chief medical officer but mention that the order came from the vice-chancellor of the university, Prof Tariq Mansoor, “via telephone”.
Speaking to The Independent, both doctors said they believe the hospital was compelled to act against them over the high-profile Hathras incident.
Dr Malik said: “The hospital administration was under pressure. Since the enquiry [in the Hathras case] was earlier being conducted here by the state police, they couldn’t act against us. But now that the case is being probed by someone else [the federal investigations agency, the CBI], therefore, they have issued an order terminating our service.”
Dr Mailk believes that his services were terminated because of the media interest in his comments, and the case. “I do not see any other reason for my termination,” he added.
Dr Haque said they had been bracing for the worst, adding that they had “known about this for a week now.” “Our CMO in-charge had been getting phone calls with directives that something must be done about us,” he said.
While Dr Haque had not given any media interviews, his name was mentioned in a 3 October report questioning police’s claims that no rape had taken place. The story was based on an examination report prepared by the hospital and attested by Dr Haque.
When asked if the consequences of their actions would prevent them from expressing their opinions in future, the medics were defiant. “They only asked me for my opinion in the capacity of a doctor. And I will give it again in future. I have taken a Hippocratic oath,” said Dr Malik. “I have only lost a job. I will find another one,” said Dr Haque adding “my loss compared to [the family of the victim) is nothing.”
The university vice-chancellor Mr Mansoor did not immediately respond when contacted for comment by The Independent.