Kashmir editorial: Hey IMA, Lancet has commented on other countries too


How could the Indian Medical Association with over 500,000 doctors, which is supposed to be reading the journal regularly, be blissfully unaware of what The Lancet has always stood for. It is not an act of commission by the journal, as the IMA calls it, but what The Lancet considers as its beholden duty to speak up for the people in health distress.

The anger against the British medical journal The Lancet for publishing on August 17 a strongly worded editorial on Kashmir was initially restricted to the social media. Two days later, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) waded into the controversy with a letter admonishing Richard Horton, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal.

“A reputed medical journal The Lancet has committed breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue”, and the editorial amounts to “interference into an internal matter of Union of India,” the letter says. It adds that “The Lancet has no locus standii on the issue of Kashmir” and questioned the “credibility and the malafide intention behind the uncalled for editorial”.

Divided into three parts

The editorial is broadly divided into three parts — one part deals with facts and figures, the other with findings of two reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Médecins Sans Frontières on human rights violation and the state of mental health, respectively and finally the opinion of the journal. The ground reality and the findings of the two reports are given equal treatment and weightage. The controversial part is found in the beginning and end of the editorial.

The editorial begins by calling the revocation of Article 370 as a “controversial move” that gives the government “greater authority over the State’s affairs”. It then adds that the “militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people” before cautioning that before “bring[ing] prosperity to Kashmir” the “people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation”.

How unaware IMA is

It might be wrong to expect people outside the medical fraternity to know what stand the journal takes when a situation such as Kashmir arises. But it’s a shame that the IMA reacted in the manner it did. How could the medical association with over 500,000  doctors, which is supposed to be reading the journal regularly, be blissfully unaware of what the journal has always stood for.

A medical association that doesn’t regularly read one of the world’s most reputed and respected medical journal and keep itself abreast of the leastest medical news, views and developments is a bigger threat to the society.

It is not an act of commission by The Lancet, as the IMA calls it, but what the journal considers as its beholden duty to speak up for the people in health distress.

It may be the first time that The Lancet has written critically about Kashmir, but it is naïve to assume that the journal has never written on such matters before. It is a given that the journal will denounce any action or policy of any nation or group that harms people’s health.

According to The Hindu Business Line, The Lancet spokesperson has said that there were “no plans to take down the editorial”. Pointing out that the journal has such editorials in the past, the spokesperson has said, “The Lancet regularly covers issues where politics and medicine intersect, since health is an important political issue in every society. National and international attention about the situation in Kashmir is high and ongoing.”

Not the first time

It has commented on Pakistan, Bangladesh, about the civil war and health crisis in Syria, health crisis in Sudan, Arab Spring, Venezuela where food and medicines are used as weapons, several times on Afghanistan, humanitarian crisis in Iraq, human rights violation in Sri Lanka, ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas, European migrant crisisgun violence in the U.S., Brexit, Greece health crisis, refugee crisis in U.S. & Canada, threat to indigenous people in Brazil, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, mandatory detention of asylum seekers by Australia, and many more.

In a July 2014 editorial on Gaza it clearly stated what it stands for. “The Lancet is a general medical journal that publishes research, news, and opinion about all aspects of human health and wellbeing. In situations of war and conflict — such as in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — our perspective has always been to put the interests of civilian lives ahead of the politics of military engagement… The role of the doctor is to protect, serve, and speak up for life. That, too, is the role of a medical journal.”

The same day that the editorial on Kashmir was published, The Lancet also carried another on mass shootings in the U.S. After putting the editorial in context and referring to a report on mass violence, the journal criticised the government saying: “The far right and the Trump administration have fomented and normalised white nationalist sentiment and entitlement with anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is amplified by conservative media and then consumed by the disenfranchised.” Now, did any medical association in the U.S. write a similar letter to The Lancet?

Unlike in the case of the editorial on Kashmir, the journal has been scathing at times while commenting on other countries. But the central focus has always been on health. And the editorial on Kashmir is no different.

If the health or human rights situation in J&K deteriorates further, we might see more, and not less, of such editorials from The Lancet.

Published in The Hindu on August 21, 2019