It is not enough for the national conscience to be jolted – it is primarily the political conscience that must be shaken out of its laggardness
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
The sad and tragic loss of Woman Police Officer Dimple Raghoo in horrifying circumstances has shocked the national conscience. Stepping towards a gate to stop a speeding car that was on a drug mission, she was swept under it as the driver speeded up to ram through the gate, rolling her down and dragging her for a distance of 500 metres.
“Dimple Raghoo was only 38 years old, with many more years of a fulfilling career awaiting her. What an irony that she should be called for this controlled operation by ADSU on a day when she was off-duty, and then to lose her life so dreadfully while in action. The country had yet to recover from the no less brutal death of two-year old Ayaan at the hands of his stepfather. Each incident in its own way was related to drugs, a spreading epidemic which demands an ‘urgency of action’ on the part of the national authorities. For such action to occur and be effective, it is not enough for the national conscience to be jolted – it is primarily the political conscience that must be shaken out of its laggardness…”
By all accounts, this was an exemplary officer who was held in high esteem. She was devoted to her work, and equally devoted to her family of seven sisters, one of whom had already passed away through illness. They had been orphaned some years earlier of both parents. According to her two unmarried sisters, she was the ‘man-around-the-house’ for them: she took responsibility for everything after the passing of their parents, and that was over and above her professional responsibilities as a member of the Anti-Drug & Smuggling Unit (ADSU).
She was only 38 years old, with many more years of a fulfilling career awaiting her. What an irony that she should be called for this controlled operation by ADSU on a day when she was off-duty, and then to lose her life so dreadfully while in action. This is an existential dilemma for which we each have to find our own answers.
The country had yet to recover from the no less brutal death of two-year old Ayaan at the hands of his stepfather. Each incident in its own way was related to drugs, a spreading epidemic which demands an ‘urgency of action’ on the part of the national authorities, as the editorial in the last issue of this paper reminded us. For such action to occur and be effective, it is not enough for the national conscience to be jolted – it is primarily the political conscience that must be shaken out of its laggardness and take the drastic decisions that the circumstances demand.
There are a few occupations that are particularly at high risk of death and violence in the line of duty, and clearly the more exposed and visible the nature of the job, the higher will be the risk. In any country, it is almost axiomatic that policemen and soldiers who are in the frontline face the highest risk, especially of death. They do indeed deserve our gratitude, though I must concede that police brutality is an issue that needs tackling too.
Unnecessary death is indeed terrible, but violence too can leave serious sequelae. Many years ago an officer who was involved in an encounter with a notorious drug criminal happened to fall down a ravine in the process. He spent several months in hospital and afterwards consulted me with chronic back problems. After some time, this 40-plus father of two young children decided to call it quits and changed profession. He had deemed that the constant risks and dangers he was exposed to were not worth it for health and family.
The same criminal had also once assaulted a doctor in the Casualty Department at Victoria Hospital, and unfortunately that was not the first incident of its kind in our Casualty Departments. The incident at Victoria Hospital happened because of the indifference of the Ministry of Health (MOH) to such attacks in Casualty that have kept recurring. In the early 1990s in view of their frequency the Mauritius Medical Association wrote to the MOH, seeking an appointment to discuss the issue and to make some practical suggestions for dealing with the situation.
Typical of the MOH, that letter was never even so much as acknowledged. In other countries too doctors face physical assaults, and in Mauritius there is in addition verbal violence too, which can degenerate. Some drug addicts have been known to threaten Casualty Officers, especially at night, demanding that they be prescribed shots of pethidine, and cite their high level political connections. With the worsening drugs problem, one must expect an increase of such incidents as time goes by, and for which the authorities had better be prepared so as to protect the staff – and also send strong signals to those who are out to ruin the country and damage its services.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not spared health workers. Worldwide nearly 7000 of them, front liners belonging to all categories but more so doctors and nurses, have died. While the majority have succumbed to the virus, sadly a number of them were deaths by suicide, the result of unbearable stress or depression as they watched colleagues they were caring for slipping away under their very eyes, also gone at relatively young ages. We too had to mourn the loss of Dr Bruno Cheong, carried away in the line of duty as he caught the virus from Zero patient who was responsible for spreading the disease in Mauritius.
Overall, and in all countries, not enough is done to protect officers performing their duty in good faith. More often than not, the problem is politicized instead of concrete political action being taken by means of effective policies clearly spelt out and implemented. Political correctness vis-à-vis perpetrators leaves potential victims vulnerable to predation and aggression. While society can raise its voice, it is the decision makers who must fulfill their duty of protection of the citizens by directing their attention and their energies to where these are needed, rather than diluting them in pursuits that do not serve the public interest.
* Published in print edition on 1 December 2020