Charak Shapath row: By firing Dean, DMK govt sends out strong signal to bureaucrats

The quick ouster shows the Tamil Nadu government is no mood to tolerate any form of Hindutva ideology in educational institutions

The Madurai Medical College controversy comes amid an already brewing language row between Tamil Nadu and the Centre.

The Tamil Nadu government’s removal of the Dean of Madurai Medical College, over the issue of first-year MBBS students being made to take the Maharshi Charak Shapath (oath) instead of the conventional Hippocratic oath, has sent out a strong message to the bureaucrats in the state.

The Dean in question, Dr A Rathinavel, who had been appreciated for his exemplary efforts in providing sorely-required oxygen and beds during COVID, has been placed on “vacancy reserve”. The quick, decisive ouster shows that the state government is in no mood to tolerate any form of Hindutva ideology in educational institutions. 

Explained: What do Charak Shapath and Hippocratic Oath say?

This controversy comes amidst an already brewing language row between Tamil Nadu and the Centre.

Mandatory Sanskrit for medical education

The MK Stalin government, it is learnt, is angry not just that the Charak Shapath is a Sanskrit text, but also that the content allegedly discriminates against patients on the basis of their caste and gender. 

Ironically, during the British Raj, it was mandatory for people to pass a Sanskrit paper before getting admission in a medical college.

K Veeramani, chief of Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the parent organisation of both the DMK and the AIADMK, recalled in an Opinion piece in The Hindu in 2015, that the Justice Party government, which came to power in 1920, had formed an admission council to regulate admission to colleges, putting an end to seats being cornered by upper caste candidates.

“In retrospect, it was a move that enshrined meritocracy and democratised the admission process,” he wrote, adding that in the field of medical education, the government also took full control of the Medical Department which, until then, was under the control of the British. It did this by appointing Indians.

Further, Veeramani added that the government took medical education to the common man by striking off the criterion of the “knowledge of Sanskrit” from the conditions of eligibility. “As a vast majority of the population hardly had the opportunity to learn even basic Sanskrit, they were shut out of medical colleges despite being talented and educationally accomplished,” he said.

In a recent editorial in party mouthpiece Viduthalai, too, Veeramani pointed out that when the “cars and flights” in which  Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled were not seen as ‘alien’, the Hippocratic oath was not foreign, either. “Invoking Charak Shapath is a cultural imposition,” he said with emphasis. 

Also read: VC Bill: AIADMK’s stand ruptures age-old Dravidian unity on federal rights

BJP-inclined bureaucrats?

This is not the first time, however, a government official has incurred the wrath of the state executive. There have been incidents in the past, when some officials have issued orders to appease right-wing groups, only to have them withdrawn after a lot of public outcry.

For instance, on July 21, 2021, an official from Madurai Corporation sent out a circular to his subordinates asking them to carry out maintenance works and road cleaning ahead of the visit of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. The circular also ordered the officials to obtain Bhagwat’s itinerary and carry out the maintenance works accordingly.

This created a huge commotion on social media. Madurai MP Su Venkatesan questioned the basis on which the circular was sent. Later, it was discovered that the circular was sent by S Shanmugam, an assistant commissioner, and he was suspended immediately. However, Corporation Commissioner KP Karthikeyan clarified that it is customary to take up maintenance works during a ‘Z Plus’ security celebrity visit.

Prior to this incident, on June 27, 2021 in Tiruppur district, a tahsildar had asked a butcher shop owner not to sell beef since he had received some complaints. KKSSR Ramachandran, the minister for revenue, transferred the official.

On July 22, 2021, a former bureaucrat, Sasikanth Senthil, who is now with the Congress, had tweeted a news item, which said that sub-registrars were insisting on parental consent for inter-caste marriages. The news item published in 2018 was based on a 2017 circular, which demanded parental consent. The rule was reversed in 2018, but in many parts of the state, the practice continues amid the DMK’s decision to exercise its poll promise of giving ₹60,000 cash assistance and 8 grams gold coin to inter-caste couples.

TN is an experimental land for right-wing’

Poet Manushyaputhiran, who is also a DMK spokesperson, told The Federal that government officials need to be sensitised about the DMK government’s policies and this cannot happen overnight.

While bureaucrats are vested with some powers such as sending out circulars and GOs, an elected government has some policies, too. “One of the policies of the DMK government is to oppose communal forces and be secular. The government officials must understand this and act accordingly,” said Manushyaputhiran.

According to the poet, the right-wing forces use Tamil Nadu as a “land of experiment”. “Their forces are at work here, too, but whenever they rear their heads, the state government needs to weed them out,” he added.

Further, he believes that it may take some time for the officials to adjust to the DMK’s policies. The AIADMK is often considered to be partly a ‘BJP party’, and the RSS had intruded in education and police departments, he alleged. 

The heads of the various government departments need to be sensitised first, agreed Ashok, an advocate and a member of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a DMK ally. “It is not as easy to identify an RSS ideology sympathiser, as you can identify a DMK or AIADMK supporter. Instead of suspending or transferring an erring official every now and then, the secretaries and heads of the departments must be sensitised on the government’s stand,” he said.

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