“How thirsty he must be. I hope his fast will end soon,” said Dr Govinda KC’s mother on a video that was shared online. Her sentiment is shared by all Nepalis who have followed the good doctor’s deadly fight to bring public health and medical education within reach of the poor and marginalised.
Govinda KC, in his 19th fast-unto-death, has repeatedly suspended his satyagraha after assurances were received from successive governments, seems to be in no mood this time to go by mere commitment. He wants action on the ground.
Already, KC has single-handedly demonstrated through his own work how to meet the people’s medical needs. With decades of experience helping the people as an orthopaedic surgeon at the Teaching Hospital and through treks into under-served parts he knows well the importance of getting medical care to the capillaries.
Many people ask Govinda KC not to go into his fasts, and put his life at risk for a topic as technical as public health and medical education. But it is his breadth of experience as well as his depth of commitment to the public’s need that provides him the logic for his fasts. These are not ‘technical’ subjects, but ones that make a difference to the lives of millions of Nepalis.
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Govinda KC is beyond a concerned Nepali citizen with deep commitment built on decades of experience. He is an internationalist who has travelled on his own money to Pakistan, Indonesia, Burma and Haiti when disaster has struck, be it a tsunami, cyclones or earthquakes. At a moment’s notice, when there is a crisis anywhere in the country, he is on a night bus, traveling like the people, with a tiny shoulder bag to serve those in distress.
Indeed, it does not behoove those who have not shown his level of dedication to the poor to have a holier-than-thou opinion on his fast. At the very least, before they opine on the appropriateness of his hunger strikes, they have to ask whether the issues he has raised are appropriate or not.
The good news is that so many of Govinda KC’s demands have been fulfilled by the government or are in the process of being addressed. Even this would not have been possible had he not kept up the pressure on governments.
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With his many hunger strikes, Govinda KC’s body has taken a beating. With every fast, he has become weaker, and there is no doubt that on his 25th day of this hunger strike, his life is in clear and present danger.
This is the longest that any government has waited without even forming a negotiating team to talk to Govinda KC. On the one hand, this shows the sheer arrogance of the government led by Prime Minister K P Oli, whose well-known distaste for decision-making on the basis of populist pressure seems to have got the better of his sense of empathy, humanity and good sense.
Oli should understand that KC’s campaign is the best thing that could have happened in terms of the goals of the new Constitution of Nepal, which guarantees the people’s right to life and right to health. Indeed, we do not see what else could be more ‘socialism oriented’ (as the Constitution describes Nepali society) than efforts to make health and medical support available to the people at large.
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It was only on the 23rd day that the government, with the Prime Minister’s okay, sent a representative to meet with KC, in the person of Education Secretary Gopi Mainali. As the public clamour for governmental response continued, the government named Mainali as the head of a three-member bureaucrats’ team for talks. Promptly, KC formed his own team led by Jiwan Kshetri, a pathologist and opinion-maker.
Govinda KC’s many demands have been whittled down to six key points he wants the government to complete. One of them is a medical college to be established immediately in Karnali Province, as part of his department for a government-run teaching hospital in each province. He also wants an amendment to the Health Profession Education Act, and for appointments to the Institute of Medicine (Teaching Hospital) to be made on the basis of seniority, to obviate politicisation of a key institution in the medical universe of the country.
We do not feel that the government team will have difficulty agreeing to conditions set by KC’s team, and they should agree so that KC will give up his fast and get started on what is bound to be a slow recovery. Further, the government team as well as the Prime Minister’s Office should ensure that there are no delays in the implementation process, which would ensure KC starting another hunger strike.
For now, all we can do is salute Govinda KC for his commitment to the people’s right to life and right to health.