Privatisation is Violence: On the Predicament of Medical Students in Ukraine

— The NotA Collective

The last two weeks have seen another addition to the litany of brutal wars ravaging our brothers and sisters on this little planet we call home; Ukraine has joined Syria, Yemen, etc, to the club of countries having to fight off invasions by imperialist superpowers, each one of them invaded for the economic and geopolitical interests of a small ruling class of ultra-rich oligarchs. But one thing that’s different this time, for Indians at least, is the surprising (to many of us) revelation that there are around 20,000 Indians stuck in the country, many attending medical colleges.

We at NotA have been watching, along with all of you, all the videos of young men and women pleading for their lives. They are being bombed1 and personally attacked2 by the Russians, and they are being beaten up and denied entry at the Romanian and Polish borders. There’s also a possibility that some are being used as human shields by Ukrainian forces.3

The government has not responded at all to the rapidly changing situation in Ukraine. They have failed to formulate or convey any concrete plans as to bringing back the Indian students.4 Instead, they are seen shouting on social media with the only concrete advice to reach the borders as soon as possible.5 As if it wasn’t obvious otherwise. There have been a few flights arranged for these students, but not nearly enough. And our great prime minister, immortal be his name, had a characteristically clear and competent response that, as always, completely solved the problem: he instructed us to study medicine in India and not smaller foreign nations, and asked the private sector to invest in building more medical colleges.6

This response is obviously unbelievably callous to the students already caught in such a horrible situation, and obviously inadequate for the situation at hand. What is less obvious is that it is calling for a solution that will make the problem even worse, in the long term. What Modi will not tell you, because it is not in his interest to save lives, is that privatisation is the main cause of the predicament of these poor students.

It’s not hard to see why. A private medical college in India costs Rs. half–one crore, and a medical college in Ukraine costs Rs. 20 lakhs — less than half as much.7 A difference of Rs 30 lakhs is more than 15 years of salary for four out of every five Indians.8 So, of course, they prefer a Ukrainian college to a private college in India. But wait, what about public colleges in India? Aligarh Muslim University fees9 are only Rs 40,000 a year! Surely that’s the best option!

Image from the World Inequality Database.8

Here’s the point, though. To get a seat in a public medical college, there need to be seats at public medical colleges. India right now has around 80,000 medical seats every year, and over 15 lakh applicants!10 Less than half of these are in government colleges.11

Image from Deswal and Singhal.11

The number of medical colleges isn’t just much less than the number of applicants, it’s also significantly less than what India needs. The WHO recommends that a country should have one doctor for every 1,000 people; in India, there is only one for every 10,000!12 So, we need ten times as many colleges, and they can either be government colleges or they can be empty colleges.

This is part of a much larger trend of ignoring education in India. Many NEET-aspiring and enrolled kids in medical colleges (sometimes as young as age 17) commit suicides.13 Official reported suicides associated to NEET increased to 14 in 2021 from 7 in 2019; the number is only getting worse due to the pandemic.14 Total number of student suicides in 2020 was 12, 526!15 This was 8.2% of total deaths! The number is even higher than that of farmer suicides,16 which we all agree is a huge crisis that needs to be dealt with. These large numbers can only be because of the inadequacy of the education system.17 How dare the government lay allegations on students who want to pursue education outside when the only option left is either suicide or leaving India. Hardly has the prime minister cared for the students of his own country, let alone those outside.

Right now, there are students stuck in a warzone, fearing for their lives. They are stuck in a warzone because there is a lack of medical education in India, and because what little is there is quickly becoming less and less affordable. The violence these young men and women are facing is being inflicted by Russian troops and Russian bombs, but it is caused by privatisation and the neglect of public health in India.

And Modi wants to make the problem worse.

  1. Ukraine: Indian Student Killed in Kharkiv; Embassy Tells All Indians to Leave Kyiv. (2022, March 1). The Wire. ↩︎

  2. @ImranTG1. (2022, February 27). [Tweet]. Twitter. ↩︎

  3. Hindustan Times. (2022, March 3). Ukrainian Forces using Indian students as human shield, says Russia | Ukraine rebuts startling claim [Video]. YouTube. ↩︎

  4. Anurag Minus Verma Podcast. (2022, February 27). #47 Student Narrates The Tale of Being Stuck in War Zone Ukraine. Spotify. ↩︎

  5. @IndiainUkraine. (2022, March 2). [Tweet]. Twitter. ↩︎

  6. With Indian students stuck in Ukraine, Modi urges private sector to invest in medical education. (2022, February 26). Scroll.In. ↩︎

  7. See @RohitChan666. (2022, February 25). [Tweet]. Twitter. or Barik, S. (2022, February 26). Ukraine was the go-to country for Odisha’s aspiring doctors. The Hindu. ↩︎

  8. According to the World Inequality Database, 80% of Indians make less than Rs 15,000 per month. See @PratapVardhan. (2022, February 1). [Tweet]. Twitter. ↩︎

  9. Vats, S. (2021, October 29). MBBS Course Fees – Govt./ Private, AIIMS and JIPMER Medical College Fees. Careers360.Com. ↩︎

  10. @drtandon07. (2022, February 27). [Tweet]. Twitter. ↩︎

  11. Deswal, B., & Singhal, V. (2016). Problems of medical education in India. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, 1905–1909. . The graph is from here. ↩︎

  12. Raman, M. (2021, April 18). A Referendum on Hope. Not Your Newspaper. ↩︎

  13. Suicide of S. Anitha. (2017, September 1). In Wikipedia. , Chandrababu, D. (2021, September 16). 3rd NEET aspirant dies by suicide in 4 days across Tamil Nadu. Hindustan Times. ↩︎

  14. Kapur, M. (2021, September 17). What do the NEET suicides say about India’s high-stakes exams? Quartz. ↩︎

  15. Nanisetti, S. (2021, November 27). Student suicides go up. The Hindu. ↩︎

  16. It should be mentioned here that this is somewhat misleading, since the official count of farmer suicides excludes landless and women farmers. And the same can be speculated for the number of reported deaths of marginalised students. ↩︎

  17. The NotA Collective. (2021, October 14). On the Discourse Surrounding Mental Health. Notes on the Academy. ↩︎