“You smell foul, You Gujjar”- Doctors at Lal Ded Hospital- A Wake up Call Against Growing Racism

January 21

Rasheed has been a daily guest at home for more than twenty years. Hailing from Marwah valley in Kishtawar, Rasheed has been here in the Islamabad township for more than twenty years now, earning his livelihood. He recently shared a story with me about his visit to an emergency hospital a few years ago. He had a painful medical condition. The emergency room staff not only did not treat her pain, but he recounted: “They treated me like I was just trying to get pain meds out of them. They didn’t try to make any diagnosis or help me at all, they called me a ‘Gujjur’ and said i smelled bad.”

Cases like above illustrate the negative assumptions and associations we can label as racism, but “most physicians are not explicitly racist and are committed to treating all patients equally. However, they operate in an inherently racist system.”

During my studies in Bangalore, people would often mislead me on roads until a local friend of mine asked me to give up asking locals to help me reach a certain place. “They hate you for the colour of your skin, this is called reverse racism,” he had said. There were instances, many of them, that made me feel i was being victimized with “reverse racism.”

ALSO READ: Kupwara Woman Gives Birth on Road, As LD Hospital Refuses to Admit her

There was a classmate of mine, who would come to me, bring her hand next to mine, I being a Kashmiri (fair in complexion), compare the colour of both and then often repeat, “See, I’ve become fairer than you!”. “Congratulations!”. i would often be bombed with questions i still find irrelevant in my life, “Kashmiris are Goray Chittay (fairer), why so?” At times, many students from North Indian States would explain, they were actually much fairer than they looked at the moment of time, it was the South Indian sun that turned them so dark, even when I never ever sough any explanation.

It’s not just in India where this obsession is found. Even in Kashmir, there are people who are infatuated with the same.

The Doctors recently refusing to treat Suraiya from farflung Moore village of Kupwara at Lal Ded hospital in Srinagar drew bold headlines across India and in Jammu Kashmir. The incident happened on Thursday night after the woman from remote Moore village of Kalaroos area of Kupwara developed labour pain at her home earlier during the day.

“She was rushed to Kalaroos hospital on a cot by a few people as the road was not motorable because of snowfall. The doctors at Kalroos referred her to Kupwara hospital, from where she was further referred to Lal Ded Hospital in Srinagar,” a family member of Suraya told The Kashmiriyat.

He said that the doctors initially refused to grant her immediate medical care discussing with eachother, “Amis Chu Fakh yiwan, yim chi Gujjir” (They smell foul, they are Gujjars). He further added that the doctors did not want to touch the lady. Finally another doctor intervened and the woman was kept under observation for a few hours at Lal Ded hospital, after which the doctors refused her an overnight stay at the hospital.

“We were asked to leave the hospital. A doctor also misbehaved with us, she kept repeating, ‘Gujir Gujir’. After we left the hospital, she developed severe pain again and delivered a baby girl on the road. The new-born died immediately,” the family member said.

The incident evoked outrage across Kashmir with former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti seeking action from the governor of the State.

Gujjar Bakerwal youths took to the streets in Pahalgam and protested against the health department following the incident. “I hope the state functionaries working under the command of @jandkgovernor take immediate action in this tragic case,” Omar Abdullah tweeted.

Racial disparity is easily found with our usage of phrases like Kruhun Kaav Huew (Dark as a crow), Kaalih Waatul (Kaalih is dark and Waatul means cobbler), Kalih Nasal (from the black race), Gujir Nasal (from the race of Gujjar) and the guilt of voting is often ascribed to “Gujir Shikasladav Traey Vote (Gujjars voted)”. And if all these phrases are ascribed to certain people in love, then love needs to be redefined and it this is not racism, then racism is an imaginary word which has never ever existed.

Hospital officials upon being contacted said that they had ordered a probe into the incident which has found that the doctor on duty did not follow the  Standard Operating Procedure by not admitting the patient. “.. unfortunately the doctor on duty went against the SOP for referrals by not admitting the patient,” concludes the report prepared by the committee that probed the case.

The case is not solitary, recently we refused to speak when a Gujjar (nomadic) Couple was refused entry inside a posh Srinagar restaurant. “Drenched in rain, they requested the gate keeper of the restaurant to let them in, he denied them entry, but the man had perhaps not lost hope in humanity, he kept pleading, perhaps for his wife who was holding a young baby in her arms, he kicked him on his chest, away from the spot,” a friend of mine told, adding that, he later took the couple in his car.

There is silence because it is practically invisible to “Kashmiris”. Systemic racism is as pervasive as the air we breathe. It is the status quo, the norm, the way things are. This phenomenon is called privilege.

But we aren’t born with prejudices about race. It is not at all something that is encoded in our DNA. It’s just based on perceptions, something we learn over time through repetition in all forms of media, in conversations, in dialogues, in the way we interact socially in our daily lives.

Neuroscience and social science research suggest that if we understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice, then we might be able to actually train our brains to go the opposite way. In order to understand those pathways, we have to identify them, talk about them, explore them, express them – and then start to act on them.

“After the baby was dead, we spent the night with an acquaintance in Srinagar and early next morning, we returned to Kupwara village and buried the body of the newborn,” the family member told The Kashmiriyat adding that no officials have approached them as of yet.

“We have not filed an FIR, after we heard that an inquiry had been ordered to probe the incident, but unfortunately, no official from Government Medical College has contacted us to record our statement.”

The concerned Station House officer upon being contacted by The Kashmiriyat said that the Police is waiting for the probe launched by GMC Srinagar to conclude. “Only after the inquiry team finalizes its report, we can file an FIR,” the Police official said.

A health activist calling the incident unfortunate said “doctors should be posted in areas with minority communities, doing such would sensitize them towards such communities.”

In Kashmir, Children who catch dirt on their clothes are often complimented, “yi kya chath panas Bihaer/ Bangael shakal banmicz? (Why have you made yourself look like a Bihari/ Bengali?)”. This is racism, Bihari and Bengali is a direct reference to the colour of the skin or being untidy. We often stereotype dark colour with filth and dirt.

There’s only one way to work our way out of the box we find ourselves in, We need to start talking about it the problems, Only then can we get to the society we aspire to live in.

We wrongly assume darkness of skin as ugliness. In Kashmir, Being dark-coloured is a kind of curse, one may disagree, but the experience of being a dark coloured has moulded itself into blatant racism, ask any dark skinned person in Kashmir, how he is victimized every day.