On 25 August 2020, Harjit Singh Bhatti appeared for a walk-in interview for the post of assistant professor of geriatric medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. He was confident of his chances as he fulfilled all the required criteria of educational qualifications and work experience. Bhatti received a doctor of medicine, or MD, degree in geriatric medicine from AIIMS in 2015. Subsequently, he also worked as a senior resident doctor at the geriatric medicine department in AIIMS for three years from 2016 to 2019. Further, Bhatti is from a Scheduled Caste community and the post was reserved for an SC candidate. According to him, he was also the only candidate who appeared for the interview.
However, on the evening of 25 August, Bhatti learnt that the interview board had not selected him for the post. He believes this is because of his activism for the welfare of doctors and the medical community. “I worked at AIIMS for six years in the same department and the people in the board knew me,” he said. “I did my MD from AIIMS. So, there was no chance of rejection, as I answered four questions right and complete and partially answered the fifth question.” He continued, “The board seemed satisfied and I was very sure because for one post only one candidate appeared and that too who had been with the same department and the same institution. But they rejected me.” Bhatti said that sources within the geriatric medicine department at AIIMS later told him of a possible reason he might have been rejected. “I got to know that the interview board didn’t like my attitude of activism and activities in past at AIIMS, raising voice for the welfare and rights of the medical fraternity.”
Bhatti described the nature of his activism. “During my period at AIIMS, I was active in raising voice for the welfare of resident doctors. I was an active member of the Resident Doctors Association at AIIMS, holding posts like secretary, treasurer, general secretary and president.” Bhatti was president of the RDA from 2017 to 2018. In December 2017, the central government first introduced the National Medical Commission Bill, which proposed to replace the then medical-education regulator—the Medical Council of India—with a new body called the National Medical Commission. Doctors at AIIMS had opposed this bill on the grounds that it would put “medical education in the hands of the rich and powerful” and give greater control to the corporate sector to “decide fees of 60 percent of the seats.” As president of the RDA at the time, Bhatti wrote a letter to JP Nadda, the then union health minister, and described the bill as “anti-people.” The letter said that there are problems with the bill which are “serious enough to distort the future of medical education in this country.”
“I opposed that bill and raised my voice against it at bigger platforms and at the national level,” Bhatti said. “On my activism, I was invited by the health minister and the parliamentary standing committee to discuss our concerns and give my inputs for the bill. With those inputs the bill was modified and later implemented.”
In addition, Bhatti said he had raised his voice on issues affecting the resident doctors at AIIMS, such as the construction of more hostels. In February 2019, after he left AIIMS, the Youth Congress appointed Bhatti as the national convenor of its All India Medical Cell. During the protests in December 2019 against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, Bhatti said he organised several health camps at the protest sites. He also spoke at the protests and was vocal on Facebook against the CAA and the NRC. “Besides I kept raising the gaps and lack in health care infrastructure in India on Twitter and Facebook,” he said.