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Did Doctors’ Plea Seeking No Police Presence In Examination Room Result In Dr Vandana Das’ Death?

Authors

Sabloo Thomas has worked as a special correspondent with the Deccan Chronicle from 2011 to December 2019. Post-Deccan Chronicle, he freelanced for various websites and worked in the capacity of a translator as well (English to Malayalam and Malayalam to English). He’s also worked with the New Indian Express as a reporter, senior reporter, and principal correspondent. He joined Express in 2001.

The brutal murder of a 23-year-old doctor at a government hospital in Kerala’s Kottarakara has left the state in sorrow and triggered outrage among doctors. The assailant, a 42-year-old school teacher, who was brought to the hospital under the influence of alcohol to have his wounds tended, suddenly became violent, jumped from the bed, and attacked those around him with surgical scissors.

Eyewitness accounts later revealed that while everyone ran to save themselves and locked themselves inside a room, Dr Vandana, a house surgeon, was stunned seeing all the violence and froze, and was stabbed multiple times by the accused Sandeep. She was taken to a private hospital in the city but later succumbed to her injuries. Four police officials have also been injured in the incident.

The incident brought to focus the safety and security of healthcare workers. Soon after the incident, doctors from across the state went on a strike demanding safe working conditions. The doctors eventually ended their strike after the state government assured them of an ordinance amending the Hospital Protection Act, ensuring their safety. A special bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath also directed the State Police Chief to come out with a new set of protocols for ensuring the security of the doctors and other healthcare professionals in all government hospitals in the state following the murder of Dr Vandana Das.

Subsequently, we found many social media posts carrying a newspaper clipping titled “Police Need Not Be Present When A Patient Is Being Examined.” Users sharing the clipping wrote, “A doctor named Pratibha approached the High Court and obtained an order saying, the police should not be near when examining the accused. This judgment is the reason why the doctor was killed yesterday.”

The posts blamed Dr Prathiba, who got the favourable verdict from the court disallowing the presence of police while treating people accused in criminal cases, for Dr Vandana’s death. The posts have been shared by many including influential pro-CPM Facebook page Porali Shaji.

Porali Shaji's Post
Facebook post by Porali Shaji

What Was The 2021 Case About?

The persistent effort of Dr Prathibha was the reason for the government releasing an order prohibiting police presence while producing the accused for medical check up. The case was related to the implementation of medico-legal protocols as per the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission. Malayalam Newspaper Mathrubhumi on June 5, 2022 published a news report about the case.

Screen grab of Mathrubhumi’s news
Screen grab of Mathrubhumi’s news

“Government has issued an order specifying that police should not stand near the accused while the doctor examines him. The order was to ensure privacy during the communication between doctor and the accused. The order suggests that the police should maintain such a distance that the accused cannot escape. This will ensure the doctor has the opportunity to the accused the opportunity to speak freely to the doctor on issues like torture in police custody, the report said.

“One of the recommendations put forward by the Justice K. Narayana Kurup Commission set up to study custodial torture was to avoid the presence of the police while the accused is examined by a doctor. A native of Tanur and medical officer at Thanalur Family Health Centre Dr K Pratibha approached the government several times to implement this recommendation. Finally she approached the High Court. The government was forced to issue the order after the court accepted the doctor’s demand, the report added.”

What Did The Court Order Say In 2021?

On further inspection, we also got the order issued by the high court in the case filed by Dr Pratibha (WP(C) NO. 14291 OF 2021) from the Live Law website. “The court order points out that Justice K. Narayanakurup Commission entrusted to study custodial torture pointed out that the accused failed to report internal injuries to the doctor in case policemen were present inside the treatment room. This was the reason for many custodial torture and custodial death cases going unreported.

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In October 2020, Kerala government issued a comprehensive order issuing guidelines for medico legal examination of arrested individuals on the basis of the court order. The government order contained instructions to police officials on implementing the court order.

Harish Vasudevan, a lawyer practising in Kerala High Court in a Facebook post dated May 10, 2023, says: “When an accused is produced for medical examination or before a magistrate, they need privacy to tell the doctor or magistrate about any atrocities committed by the police. For this, we need to ensure that dialogue between the doctor and the accused is not being overheard by the police.”

“If there is a need for privacy in the medical examination of the accused, the doctor and the accused must have it. When a doctor raised this, the High Court gave a favourable order,” the post says.” Accused are produced at the Magistrate’s house. Even then, the accused should be able to tell the magistrate what he has to say without the police overhearing it,” the post added.

The verdict is based on the fact that the accused brought for the medical examination should have the privacy to talk to the doctor. It does not take away the right of the police to protect doctors from violence on the part of the accused.

Also read: Karnataka Polls: Were EVMs Found In BJP Leader’s Car, Destroyed By Locals? Here’s The Truth Behind the Viral Video

Was The Police Present In The Examination Room When Dr Vandana Was Attacked?

Based on newspaper reports and speaking to journalists who reported the crime, we understood that the police were indeed present outside the examination room while the incident happened. Only the doctor and the youth who attacked her were present in the examination room.

Live Law report of May 11,2023 says a Division Bench comprising of Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Kauser Edappagath observed, “the preliminary information received it is clear that Dr Vandana Das was alone in the Observation Room at a particular point of time, which opportunity was seized by the accused to stab her repeatedly.”

As per the report of New Indian Express dated May 11, 2023, a report filed by the state police chief before the Kerala High Court said Sandeep took the scissors from the dressing table and attacked his neighbour and distant relative Binu and home guard Alexkutty, who was standing outside the dressing room. ASI Manilal, who was on aid-post duty, intervened and he was also attacked, it said.

Hospital ambulance driver Rajesh S had told The New Indian Express that Sandeep assaulted others before attacking Vandana. “I heard screaming and rushed to the casualty. I saw the assailant stabbing a police officer. Though I tried to grab him from behind, he stabbed me and injured my left arm. The SI reached the spot, but Sandeep attacked him on the head,” the New Indian Express report said.

Mathrubhumi in a report published on May 10, 2023, has pointed out the contradictions in the narrative of police FIR and affidavit in the court on the chain of events that resulted in Vandana’s murder. “The FIR states that Sandeep first attacked Dr Vandana Das, and policemen were injured when they tried to stop him. However, the police affidavit in HC says that Sandeep first attacked Binu, who accompanied him to the hospital, and then the policemen, before the doctor was stabbed,” as per the report.


“According to the FIR, Sandeep grabbed the scissors used in the dressing room and swung at Vandana’s head, injuring her. He then chased her and broke into the observation room, stabbing the doctor multiple times. The accused also injured policemen, officials, and hospital staff who tried to stop him. It was also stated that he destroyed properties in the hospital. The FIR quotes a senior doctor to narrate the chain of events,” the Mathrubhumi report said.

Thus, since there are multiple versions of what transpired, it is not possible to clearly say whether Dr Vandana met her tragic fate due to the 2021 verdict.

‘Harassed, says doctor who filed plea in court that lead to 2021 verdict

We called Pratibha, the doctor who gave the case that led to the verdict against the presence of police while examining the accused, to know more. She said that there has been a cyber attack against her after a doctor was stabbed to death. “That incident has nothing to do with the judgment of the case he gave. Dr. Pratibha said that such cyber attacks do not affect her.

Sources
Newsreport by Mathrubhumi on June 5, 2022
Judgment for WP(C) NO. 14291 OF 2021
Facebook post by Harish Vasudevan on May 10, 2023
Government order dated October 31, 2020
Telephone Conversation with Dr K Prathiba

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Authors

Sabloo Thomas has worked as a special correspondent with the Deccan Chronicle from 2011 to December 2019. Post-Deccan Chronicle, he freelanced for various websites and worked in the capacity of a translator as well (English to Malayalam and Malayalam to English). He’s also worked with the New Indian Express as a reporter, senior reporter, and principal correspondent. He joined Express in 2001.

Sabloo Thomas
Sabloo Thomas
Sabloo Thomas has worked as a special correspondent with the Deccan Chronicle from 2011 to December 2019. Post-Deccan Chronicle, he freelanced for various websites and worked in the capacity of a translator as well (English to Malayalam and Malayalam to English). He’s also worked with the New Indian Express as a reporter, senior reporter, and principal correspondent. He joined Express in 2001.

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