Print Edition - 2016-12-29  |  Yearender 2016

The Good Fight

  • Dr KC and his supporters like Dr Jiwan Kshetry are an example of active citizens whose role is crucial in building an effective state
- Manish Gautam
The confluence of the state and businesspeople and policies that are formulated to further thriving medical businesses rather than serving the populace, also tramples the freedom of large sections of the population

Dec 29, 2016-With a green surgical mask placed under his chin, Dr Jiwan Kshetry prepares to address a mass gathering at New Baneshwor, next to the Parliament. The riot police stand vigilant, barricading the crowd from moving towards the CA building. A person, standing on an old Tata jeep with a megaphone to his lips, calls out Dr Kshetry, “He is going to speak the voice of Dr KC,” he bellows, as the crowd erupts into a spontaneous cheer. 

This was not any other Thursday. 

Dr Govinda KC, a doctor and a civil activist who has sat through 10 fasts protesting the malpractices in the medical sector, was on the 19th day of his latest fast-unto-death protest. As the doctor’s health fast deteriorated, thousands of well wishers and activists had hit the streets to put pressure on the government to address his demands. 

 Taking the megaphone, Dr Kshetry delivers a nine-minute speech, where he talks about why Dr KC had been staging repeated fasts—the rampant meddling by political forces in the medical sector and education, and how government after government continues to drag their heels despite striking previous agreements to address the doctor’s demands. 

As Dr Kshetry’s address winds down, the crowd erupts into another, longer cheer. 

Three days later, with another deal brokered with the sitting government, Dr KC breaks his 10th and longest fast.

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Jiwan Kshetry was born in Baglung in 1984, in a lower middle-class family, where his father’s pension from the Indian Army was the only source of income. A bright student from his early days, Kshetry moved to Chitwan for further studies once completing his high school in his hometown. After Chitwan, he would go on to secure a scholarship from the Ministry of Education and begin medical school at the Universal Medical College, Bhairahawa.  “The six years’ stay in Bhairahawa was meaningful in its own way,” Kshetry says. “It was a gateway to Indian and South Asian newspapers and magazines. There, I experienced a rapid expansion of horizon. For the very first time, I started looking into the world beyond Nepal.”

After graduating and working for two years as a medical officer in the Dadeldhura District Hospital, in 2012, Dr Kshetry moved to Kathmandu, where he enrolled in a post-graduate program in Pathology at the Institute of Medicine, Maharajgunj. 

When in his first year at the school, Dr KC began his first hunger strike. 

Now, six years later, Dr Kshetry has become a close confidante of Dr KC and is perhaps the most influential person behind Dr KC’s civil disobedience movement that has has exposed the dirty nexus between the ‘medical mafia’ and the corrupt political class and has attracted tens of thousands of followers.  

“Dr KC is a very simple human being. All he thinks is about his patients and the healthcare system of Nepal,” says Dr Kshetry. “His devotion and perseverance to fight the status quo is unparalleled.”

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Dr Kshetry can recall the day when his disillusionment with the degrading quality of medical education in the country began. While stationed as a medical officer in Bhairahawa, he was taken aback when an Indian doctor, who had received her MBBS in Nepal, came to him and requested assistance inserting a cannula, a thin tube that goes into a vein or a body cavity—a simple skill all health professionals, including auxiliary health workers, learn very early in their careers. 

For him, the incident proved beyond doubt the constant allegations of Indian students migrating to Nepal because “buying” medical degrees, through hefty tuition fees, is easier in the country. 

Years later, when he began teaching at a private medical school in Chitwan, Dr Kshetry realised that Nepali students were heading in the same direction. “Many students were not interested in their courses and had to be spoon fed. I realised medical education was heading in a wrong direction and began analysing and writing about it. This drew me close to Dr KC’s movement,” he says. A voracious reader and a prolific writer, Dr Kshetry continues to regularly publish his thoughts and analyses in the media.  

Dr KC and his supporters like Dr Kshetry are an example of active citizens whose role is crucial in building an effective state. The confluence of the state and businesspeople and policies that are formulated to further thriving medical businesses rather than serving the populace, also tramples the freedom of large sections of the population.

Dr Kshetry believes that the narrowing of public space, the partisan nature of public debates, the fragmentation of the civil society, the degeneration of political values and ethos and the erosion of academic culture has made us a polarised society. “This kind of society does not think. It only reacts,” Dr Kshetry says. “And motivating people towards activism is real hard. Polarisation of the populace and the state’s increasing intolerance to dissent are some of the other challenges. Finger pointing and mudslinging has become a part of the everyday.” 

For a long term solution to the pressing problem on medical education, Dr Kshetry views that a free-market approach to the health and education sector will not work. “In a country like ours where medical mafias and business people are seeking total anarchy, there should at least be minimal intervention by the state. But as long as the bureaucrats, politicians and business people live in a peaceful ecosystem the intervention will be hard,” he says. 

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Currently based out of Chitwan, each time Dr KC stages a fast, Dr Kshetry rushes to Kathmandu and works as an active bridge between the state and the fasting doctor. During the tenth hunger strike, Dr KC broke his fast on the 22nd day, on December 4, but Dr Kshetry was nowhere to be seen. After being assured that the fast would be broken, he went on a solo hike to Shivapuri and returned late in the evening. 

“I hike for solace. It recharges my mind and helps me switch between an activist and a doctor,” Dr Kshetry remarks with a whiff of smile, “Besides, unlike Dr KC, I have been eating, and I need to burn some of it off.”  

Published: 29-12-2016 10:16

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