The Rajasthan Police on Sunday filed a First Information Report against three staff members, including a doctor, of a private hospital in Churu district for allegedly planning to discriminate against Covid-19 patients from the Muslim community, reported the Hindustan Times. The FIR also named a lab technician and a compounder.
The three have been booked under Sections 153A (attack upon any religion) and 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act.
The police inquiry was initiated after screenshots of a purported WhatsApp conversation between the hospital staff went viral. The station house officer of Sardarshahar police station, Mahendra Dutt Sharma, said the police control room had received a complaint on Friday. “FIR was registered today [Sunday] against three persons, which includes a doctor, a lab technician and a compounder after preliminary investigation the conversation was found biased against a particular region,” Sharma told the Hindustan Times.
Maqbool Khan, the district president of the Muslim Parishad Sansthan in Churu, said he had reported the matter to police, according to The Indian Express.
“Kal me me muslim ptnt ka x-ray ni krunga. Yah meri sapat hai [From tomorrow, I will not do X-rays of Muslim patients. This is my vow],” read one of the messages, according to The Indian Express. Another message from the same person read, “Muslim ptnt ko dekhna hi band krwa do [Stop attending to Muslim patients all together].” The WhatsApp group is called “BARDIA RISE”.
Dr Sunil Choudhary, who runs the Srichand Baradiya Rog Nidan Kendra – a private orthopaedic hospital – in Sardarshahar, apologised on Saturday. In a Facebook post, he said the hospital staff did not have any intention to hurt any religious groups. “We assure you that in the future our hospital will not give you any reason to complain,” he wrote.
One of the participants in the purported chat was Dr Choudhary’s wife, who is also a doctor, the police said, according to The Indian Express. However, Dr Bhagwati Choudhary has denied it. “It is not true that we refused treatment to Muslims,” she told the newspaper.
Sunil Choudhary claimed that the screenshots were nearly two months old. “The chat is from mid-April when Covid cases related to the Tablighi Jamaat were coming,” he said. “There were several cases in our area… As you can see, someone has written this and there is no doubt about it, but if you see the number of Muslim patients we attend to on a regular basis, you will see that the ground reality has no relation with what has been said in the chat.” He added that the matter shouldn’t be politicised and doctors should not be punished without any reason.
Thousands of Indians and hundreds of foreigners had attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi in early March. It later emerged as a coronavirus hotspot. After the event, many participants returned home across the country while others travelled to meeting, raising concerns about the scale of the potential spread of infection. On April 5, the health ministry had claimed that the religious gathering had pushed up the doubling rate of cases in India to 4.1 days from the estimated 7.4 days.