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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 12:26 GMT
Bihar doctors rally over killing
Patna doctors protest
The doctors want action against extortion and killings (Pics: Prashant Ravi)
Doctors in the northern Indian state of Bihar have held a protest rally as they continue an indefinite strike following the killing of a colleague.

About 20,000 doctors in government and private hospitals have refused to work in the state since Friday's killing.

They are demanding the government stop a wave of extortion, kidnap and murder aimed at the medical profession.

Thirty-five doctors have been kidnapped in Bihar in the past four years and five of them have been killed.

Move away from here otherwise your patient will die unattended
Sarvesh Kumar
Hospital patient's brother

Some 2,000 people took part in Tuesday's rally in the state capital, Patna, according to the Indian Medical Association.

The strike, which began on Sunday, has paralysed medical care in Bihar, including emergency services.

Correspondents say that even patients who arrive with serious conditions are being turned away from hospitals.

Nurses are providing basic care and some seriously ill patients have been transferred out of the state.

India's army and railways have also opened three of their main hospitals in Bihar to civilian patients to help cope with the situation.

Lawless state

The Indian Medical Association - a nationwide association of doctors - has also threatened to hold protest rallies across the country leading up to a nationwide strike on 25 November.

The association's general secretary, Vinay Agarwal, told the BBC that extortion and violence against doctors had become so common in Bihar that action had to be taken whatever the effect on patients.

We are living in fear - how can we work when we face such terror?
Dr AK Thakur
Patna heart specialist

Dr Agarwal accused the state government of wilful failure to act against the people behind the extortion.

Businessmen and doctors are routinely targeted by extortionists and kidnapped in Bihar, widely considered to be India's most lawless state.

Eminent surgeon Nand Kishore Agarwal became the latest victim last Friday when he and his assistant were gunned down in his clinic by unknown assailants after he refused an extortion demand.

Doctors in the state say the threats are continuing unabated.

Heart specialist Dr AK Thakur, who has a clinic in the state capital, Patna, says he has received three extortion calls, one of them demanding nearly 5m rupees, (about $110,000), after Friday's killing.

"The caller threatened me, telling me to pay up soon - failing which I would be eliminated along with my employees and patients," he told the BBC.

Map of northern India showing location of Bihar
"We are living in fear under the shadow of guns and guards. How can we work when we face such terror?"

Rajiv Ranjan, another Patna-based doctor, says he has received "umpteen" calls on his mobile phone demanding money in the past year.

"I have gone to the police, registered five official complaints, but till now the police have been unable to trace the call."

Plight of the sick

Health services have been virtually crippled in Bihar since junior doctors joined the strike on Monday. Until then, they had been dealing with emergency cases.

Doctors under guard in Bihar
Policemen are guarding doctors in Bihar
"We have been left with no other way to demand security for doctors who are being targeted wantonly by criminals," the IMA's Bihar president, SP Singh, said.

Patients and their relatives now have few options open to them.

Sarvesh Kumar said he had been told to move his brother out of the emergency ward of the Patna Medical College and Hospital.

"A hospital employee told me, 'Don't you know the doctors are on strike? Move away from here otherwise your patient will die unattended," Mr Kumar told the BBC.

Last year, at least 10 patients died without treatment in Bihar hospitals after doctors went on strike in protest at the kidnapping of one of their colleagues.

Bihar doctors strike over killing
15 Nov 04 |  South Asia
Patients die as Indian doctors strike
07 Feb 03 |  South Asia

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