IMA slams the Lancet on Kashmir editorial

The medical journal has reacted to an internal administrative decision of India under the garb of concern for the health of Kashmiris, said the doctor's body

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Monday 19 August 2019

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), on August 19, 2019, alleged that British medical journal The Lancet has interfered with India’s internal matters by commenting on Kashmir in its recent editorial piece.

The 187-year-old medical weekly, in an editorial on August 17, flagged possible health impacts on the people of Kashmir in the wake of lockdown imposed there. Kashmir witnessed lockdown after the government, on August 5, repealed provisions under Article 370 which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir and limited Parliament's power to make laws concerning the state. 

The Lancet has “no locus standi on the issue of Kashmir”, the IMA wrote in a letter to the journal’s editor-in-chief, Richard Horton.

“It is amounting to interference into an internal matter of Union of India. The Lancet has reacted to an internal administrative decision of Government of India under the garb of concern for the health of Kashmiris,” said the letter signed by Santanu Sen, national president of IMA.

Calling it “unfortunate”, the doctor’s body said the journal “has committed breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue” and also questioned the “credibility and the mala fide intention behind the uncalled for editorial”.

“A lockdown has been implemented that suspended communication and internet links, and a strict curfew has been imposed. The militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people,” said The Lancet's editorial titled Fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s future. 

People in Kashmir rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death firsthand, it said, quoting a study by the Medicines Sans Frontiers. 

“(The) Indian Medical Association on behalf of the medical fraternity of India withdraws the esteem we had for The Lancet,” the doctor's body said.

“It would be wrong to say that they are writing on behalf of medical fraternity. We, as doctors, know for sure that the Lancet has earlier too written on several political conflicts and this is not the first time that they have done so,” Sanjay Nagral, chairman of Forum for Medical Ethics Society, told Down To Earth.

“One is within his/her rights to question the stand the journal has taken but to question its mandate to react to a political development in the world is ill-founded,” he added.  

After The Lancet, The BMJ published an article pointing out health impact due to lockdown in Kashmir on August 19. In response, 18 doctors from across India said that the “grim situation has led to a blatant denial of the right to healthcare”.  

“They might have (written on health issues arising out of political conflicts) but why does it not write about Ireland and the conflict there,” RV Asokan, IMA secretary told DTE, on why the IMA thought that The Lancet did not have mandate to react to this issue.

The recent lockdown in Kashmir hit medical services badly, with pregnant women facing difficultiessurgeries being delayed and medicines going short in supply.

Asked why IMA could not issue a statement regarding these health problems Asokan said: “Our state branch has not communicated this to us”.  

“We don’t have a capacity to get involved in any direct manner if these reports are true. However, if there are such problems prevailing there, we would write to the central government so that it can take them into cognisance,” Asokan added.

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