Casteist Remarks Lead to a Cataract Crisis

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After a record-holding ophthalmologist is barred from his hospital for 10 days, surgeries pile up
Noted ophthalmologist, Padmashree awardee and JJ Hospital Dean Dr Tatyarao Lahane holds the world record for the most cataract surgeries performed—over a staggering 100,000. At the government run hospital in Byculla, Mumbai, Lahane and his team would treat around 150 eye patients a day. After passing a casteist remark, he was temporarily barred from entering the hospital premises.

His ten-day absence resulted in the cancellation of over 500 cataract operations. Hundreds of patients were encouraged to come back once the matter had been resolved.

“The internal conflict between staff and workers of the hospital will only result in the negligence of its patients. Not much good can come of it,” says 42-year-old patient Sujay Thakur, one of many affected by the doctor’s absence.

Lahane’s present troubles stem from his being a stickler for hygiene and sanitation on hospital premises. In the early hours of 13 February, he had been doing his daily inspection rounds of the hospital when he noticed Narayan Waghela, an on-contract sweeper, along with a group of other Class IV employees, not doing their jobs in protest against the management’s failure give them permanent jobs. Lahane lost his temper and allegedly made derogatory remarks to Waghela about the latter’s profession.

Waghela lodged a police complaint and a first information report (FIR) was filed against Lahane at the JJ Marg police station under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act. The doctor was temporarily barred from entering the hospital premises by a sessions court. Posters besmirching him as casteist sprung up around the hospital. Ironically, Lahane himself is of a Scheduled Caste.

The Court granted Lahane anticipatory bail on 27 February and he resumed work last Friday, 28 February.

When contacted, he said that the case was in the High Court currently and could not be discussed. Lahane and his team are now trying to cater to more patients daily to clear the backlog.