As the controversy over students of the Madurai Medical College taking the Maharshi Charak Shapath raged for the second consecutive day, it has now emerged that the English translation of the Sanskrit text was used in similar ceremonies in government and private medical colleges in the state over the past few months replacing the Hippocratic Oath.
A video of students taking the Shapath in English at the Ramanathapuram Government Medical College in March went viral on social media on Monday, in an embarrassment to the Tamil Nadu government which had on Sunday said administering the Shapath instead of the Hippocratic Oath at the Madurai Medical College was the first such instance.
Reports from Tiruvarur, Villupuram, and Chengalpattu also said the Shapath was used in oath-taking ceremonies in government medical colleges in these cities and towns earlier this year.
While no objection was raised in these colleges, Finance Minister P T R Palanivel Thiaga Rajan opposed the Shapath on Saturday at the Madurai Medical College. Rajan took to Twitter to say “apparently this has been going on in other colleges over the past few months, but no one else saw fit to question the changeover, it seems.”
He also posted a copy of the oath on his verified Twitter page to dismiss suggestions that the text read out by the students had “nothing non-scientific or retrograde.” “I (especially a male doctor) shall treat a woman only in the presence of her husband or a near relative,” one oath read.
Though Health Department officials said the colleges “jumped the gun” by implementing the recommendations of the National Medical Commission without its concurrence, there were not many takers for the view.
Doctors said the absence of a circular clarifying that the conventional oath will continue to be used in government colleges in Tamil Nadu and that they should not follow the NMC’s recommendation would have avoided “such an embarrassing situation.”
“When the NMC’s recommendations reached medical colleges, I am sure it did reach the Health Department. Why wasn’t a circular sent from the government on ignoring the NMC’s suggestions and sticking to the Hippocratic Oath,” a public health expert said on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Students’ Council of the Madurai Medical College on Monday took the blame for first-year students being administered the Maharshi Charak Shapath during their oath-taking ceremony on Saturday, saying the authorities of the institution were not aware of their decision.
Jothish Kumaravel, President of the Students’ Council, also clarified that the oath was taken in English and not in Sanskrit while blaming the paucity of time for the goof-up that led to a major controversy ending in the transfer of the institute’s dean, A Rathinavel, who has now been placed on the waitlist by the state government.
“During the oath-taking ceremony on Saturday, the Maharshi Charak Shapath was read in English and not in Sanskrit as is being projected. The National Medical Commission has issued a guideline recommending using the Shapath during such ceremonies. We took a decision to use it though NMC has not made it mandatory,” Kumaravel said.
However, Kumaravel and other members of the Students’ Council, said there was no prior communication from the Directorate of Medical Education (DME) on not to use the Shapath.
To a question on whether they took officials of the institute into confidence while replacing Shapath with the Hippocratic Oath, the members replied in the negative. “We took the decision and included the Shapath in the itinerary. Due to paucity of time, we could not consult the Advisory Committee,” Kumaravel said.
Meanwhile, the former Dean said he was transferred without even being given a chance to explain his position. “The oath was taken in English, and not in Sanskrit. It was the Students’ Council that included the oath. The authorities did not ask for my explanation before taking action against me,” he said.
The former dean also received support from former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Recalling Rathinavel’s “hard work” during the Covid-19 pandemic at the Sivaganga Government District Hospital, Chidambaram said the doctor should be made responsible if the “mistake” had happened without his knowledge.
“My only worry is people should not lose the service of a good doctor who is also senior in the profession,” Chidambaram, a former Lok Sabha MP from Sivaganga, said.
The Tamil Nadu Government Doctors' Association also sought the withdrawal of Rathnavel’s transfer order.
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