Indian doctors fear bomb plot backlash

By Emily Wax, NEW DELHI, India, The Washington Post

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced more rigorous background checks on foreign doctors applying for visas to work in Britain, panic spread through India’s medical community, whose highly skilled professionals have always found it easy to work and study abroad. The prime minister’s announcement this week followed the disclosure that, among the medical professionals being held in connection with the failed bombings in Britain, three are from a single family in Bangalore. It was the first time that Indian Muslims have been accused of being linked to a possible al-Qaida plot.

In emotional television broadcasts, Indian political and medical leaders said they worried that it would be harder to get visas to Britain and that Indian professionals living abroad would face racial profiling.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, displaying rare emotion while speaking with journalists Thursday in New Delhi, said that he had spoken with Brown on Wednesday evening. Singh said he told Brown that he was “against all labeling of terrorism by nationality.” Singh also said: “A terrorist is a terrorist and has no religion or community. As a Sikh I know what it’s like to be called a Sikh terrorist.”

Ajay Kumar, the national president of the Indian Medical Association, said he was drafting a letter of protest to Brown, whose comments were causing “suspicious minds” to be critical of diligent Indian medical professionals and other skilled workers. Indians employed abroad, Kumar said, were among those shocked by the recent accusations that doctors could be involved in plots to kill.

“I’m really peeved, because every place in the world has Indian doctors. What Brown said puts them all in one bad light,” Kumar said. “One should not malign the entire population of Indian doctors working very long hours and practicing medicine for generations because two people out of 1.1 billion might have done a horrible crime.”

An estimated 27,000 of India’s 650,000 doctors work in Britain, according to Kumar. Many of them say that moving abroad gives them access to better schools for their children and a better quality of life. Kumar noted that many go for well-paid research jobs and that others are helping Britain cope with a shortage of doctors.

India’s Muslim leaders said they want the world to delay judgment on Mohammed Haneef, the 27-year-old doctor who was arrested at Brisbane Airport in Australia on Monday night, reportedly on his way to India with a one-way ticket to visit his newborn daughter. Also arrested was Haneef’s Indian relative, Sabeel Ahmed, a 26-year-old trainee physician, who was detained in northern England. Haneef and Ahmed reportedly studied together at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Medical College, affiliated with the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Karnataka, India.

Sabeel’s brother, Khalid Ahmed, 27, also known as Kafeel Ahmed, has also been accused of involvement in the bomb plot. According to investigators, Kafeel drove the burning Jeep Cherokee into the Glasgow Airport terminal on Saturday and is hospitalized with burns on 90 percent of his body.

Weeping on Indian television, Haneef’s family told reporters that the men were innocent and that they were all polite and serious students.