Chennai: Dr Payal Tadvi, a young doctor from a Scheduled Tribe community, allegedly took her own life last week following instances of "casteism" at the hands of her seniors at the government-run BYL Nair Medical College in Mumbai.
Two years ago, a doctor from Tamil Nadu almost took the same step. Dr M Mariraj attempted suicide after being unable to put up with constant racist slurs. He told News18 about how rampant casteist ragging is in medical colleges — and how he was harassed even more after surviving the suicide attempt. The general surgeon is now trying to build an association to help out Dalit doctors who face harassment.
“The harassment was worse after my suicide attempt in college as the entire college tortured me,” says Dr Mariraj, a surgeon in the Central Government Hospital near Chennai.
Mariraj was pursuing a three-year postgraduate at Ahmedabad’s BJ Medical College when he encountered caste-based harassment by his seniors, colleagues and professors. This led him to consume sleeping pills in January 2018.
His trauma continued even after the tragic incident. Mariraj says the university “failed him” in his first attempt and that he managed to land his degree only in his second try.
“I got my hall ticket from the high court and not from college. This was because initially, I had problems with the department but later on it escalated to college level and then to the university. They were also not ready to give me the hall ticket. Just two hours before the exam, I got it. The college formed an internal committee. They didn’t inquire into the situation, but instead put the blame on me and said I was the problem. The other committee that was supposed to be set up was never formed and the college sent a fake report,” he says.
Alleging discrimination by the college solely on the basis of his Dalit background, Mariraj says he was often forced to serve tea with his own money to everyone, including seniors and professors. Traumatised, he tried to kill himself, but instead of supporting him after the incident, the university continued to harass him when he returned to college after recovery.
“The Scheduled Caste students were discriminated against by professors, unit professors and others. Before the incident, they called me purposefully to serve tea to everyone from my own money. The entire department didn’t allow me to participate in any seminars. After January 2018, when I came back from the hospital, they didn’t allow me to enter the department for 18 days and were also not ready to sign my thesis project. Nobody was ready to guide me. They were not ready to sign my certificate where I achieved second position in poster presentation. They also sent the conference committee an official email to cancel my poster presentation. They were not ready to sign my application form, my thesis form, unwilling to accept my paper presentation and poster presentation. They also didn’t send my exam application form at the right time.”
Caste discrimination is not restricted only to the medical field. “This kind of discrimination happens in each and every field and everywhere in India. Many incidents are not known,” says Mariraj. “People only find out after someone commits suicide or only when something bad has happened to an individual belonging to the Scheduled Castes. But students from suppressed castes suffer daily, that is the truth.”
In the wake of Dr Tadvi’s suicide, Mariraj feels nothing can bring justice to the family of the victim even if they agitate for two to three days. The plight of the Dalit students across India is the same, he adds.
Mariraj says a friend belonging to the same caste was forced to drop out of a course in dermatology in New Delhi after facing harassment.
“If you ask any Dalit student in India or any other higher institution, they face the problem every day but to some level, for some students, it gets worse. They mentally torture students. For instance, they did not allow me inside the operation ward for more than six months. Sadly, professors always supported those who were against me,” he says.
Mariraj is looking to register an association in Tamil Nadu to raise such issues.
“We launched a body called the Democratic Doctors’ Association in Tamil Nadu and it will be registered within 15 days or a month. The goal is to protest and fight against these issues. The association is presently concentrating only on Tamil Nadu,” he says.