Skip to main content

Payal, Rohith suicides: Anti-caste movements 'haven't succeeded' in democratising India

By Battini Rao*
Dr Payal Tadvi, an Adivasi Muslim from one of the most backward tribes of India, committed suicide on May 22 in her hostel room in a Mumbai hospital. She was a post-graduate resident doctor in the hospital. Many times before her suicide her mother and husband had given written representations to the hospital authorities about the harassment she had been facing from three of her seniors.
According to these complaints her harassers were using casteist abuses and publicly humiliating her. However, the hospital took no administrative actions. After her death the hospital’s anti-ragging committee has reportedly found evidence of harassment, and according to some newspaper report the police have found evidence of derogatory casteist remarks.
Dr Payal Tadvi’s suicide immediately brings to mind the suicide by Rohith Vemula in 2015, a PhD scholar at the Hyderabad Central University. Rohith was a student activist. His organisation had been protesting against the HCU administration for months before his suicide.
Even ministers of the BJP central government had enquired if his organisation had been adequately punished by the university administration after it was involved in a physical brawl with activists of the ABVP, the student organisation allied with the ruling party.
If the context of Rohith’s suicide was institutional victimisation of radical dalit youth, Payal’s suicide throws open a window to the intimate cruelties suffered by the people of deprived backgrounds every day. According to her mother when Payal moved in the hospital hostel, the only cot in the room was already taken by one of her alleged harassers.
Her room-mate, also a doctor, would wipe her feet on the mattress on which Payal slept. Payal was a trained doctor. She had worked in a primary health centre for a year. Yet her modern professional status could not shield her from what she had to go through. She narrated incidences of her humiliation only to her immediate family members. They complained to authorities when they felt she was under serious stress. She died alone, without leaving any suicide note.

Multiple humiliations

Even 70 years after independence, and a constitution that promises a life of dignity to every citizen, Dalits, Adivasis, and minorities in India continue to suffer multiple humiliations in their everyday lives. Appropriate legal provisions are in place. Institutional motivation to implement these provisions is woefully lacking, as shown in Payal’s case.
However, even if institutional mechanisms were in place, these can play a role only after a Dalit or an Adivasi has been humiliated, or suffered an assault. Indians need to identify and root out the conditions which make many of them abusers and haters of people from deprived backgrounds.
Indian society remains a deeply hierarchical and divided society. Its public sphere, in which people are supposed to be able to interact with each other without distinctions, is also stamped with hierarchy, so that there is little respect for a human being for just being a person. The normalcy of this public is dominated by people from privileged backgrounds. People from deprived backgrounds always feel marked in this sphere. 
Numerous writings by Dalit and Adivasi authors bring it out in painful detail. In educational institutions and work environments they are permanently stamped with the ‘reservation’ category tag. Most of them are first generation learners from poor families. They get to join these institutions and places of work after numerous hurdles, but their individual talents are little recognised. Increasingly, Muslims of our country are also being made to feel the same way.
Institutions of higher learning and government offices reek of a nefarious discourse on ‘merit’ of the ‘general’ category. This ‘merit’ is supposed to be measured by marks in entrance exams.
But how does one compare the abilities of a Dalit young woman from a rural landless family, who spent half her time on family chores, went to a dilapidated village school, and still got admission to an institution of higher learning, with another person whose upper middle class urban parents gave him/her education in expensive private schools, provided comfortable learning environment at home, and paid for extra tuitions and coaching?
Why should only one of them be considered ‘meritorious’? Why cannot they interact freely in an environment of mutual respect? 

Reservation a culprit?

The policy of reservation in jobs and educational institutions is often cited as the chief culprit, as if without this policy these places will be republics of merit. The drafting committee of India’s constitution under the leadership of Dr BR Ambedkar adopted reservations as a policy of affirmative action after serious debate. Reservations have been continued and extended by democratically elected governments.
Citizens have a right to criticize any government policy, or law. However, no one has a right to humiliate and abuse anyone, and any effort to show these as ‘reactions’ to a state policy is pure hypocrisy. These are acts of aggression and violence against people who are vulnerable due to their deprived backgrounds.
One should seriously question why so many of them are haters and abusers of people from deprived backgrounds. Why do people who abuse and commit hate crimes think they can get away with it? It is evident that the anti-caste movements have only partially succeeded in democratising India.
The main reason is that the task of making India a democratic society has never been undertaken by the overwhelming majority of Indians. Until this happens India will continue to humiliate and harass people from deprived backgrounds, and destroy bright and sensitive men and women like Rohith and Payal.
---
*Convener, People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

Comments

TRENDING

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

Union Budget 'moves away' from Right to Education, 1.3 lakh schools closed down

By Dr Aparajita Sharma*
It was a shocking reply by the Union human resource development minister to a question raised in Parliament on closure of schools in a country where lakhs of children are still out of school. On December 2, the minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, told Lok Sabha that the NITI Aayog’s education project, Sath-E, has led to 35,996 schools of different levels being merged in Madhya Pradesh, 4,312 in Jharkhand and 1,803 in Odisha. NITI Aayog is the Central Government’s policy think-tank.

CAA-NPR-NRC will 'target' 99% homeless, who are without birth certificates: NCU

Counterview Desk
Claiming to base on a survey in five states (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu), which finds that over 99% of the homeless people do not have birth certificates, a civil rights organization which networks activists, researchers, urban practioners, lawyers, informal sector workers, has claimed that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as also the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), are likely to adversely impact this section the most.

Modi 'warned': Will not remain silent when women are labelled terrorists and traitors

Counterview Desk
As many as 13 women's rights organizations and 162 individuals have issued an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that in the light of hate speeches during Delhi elections, especially directed against women, it is his "Constitutional duty to protect all citizens" and tell his partymen "to fight the elections in a manner that upholds the Constitution, not one that increases the fear and insecurity among women."

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Law 'governing' world's tallest Statue of Unity refers to local tribals as occupiers

By Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant*
The recently enacted Statue of Unity (SoU) Area Development and Tourism Governance Act, 2019 in Gujarat comes amidst a terrifying atmosphere of intimidation, house arrests, detentions and FIRs, not to mention the overarching implementation of Section 144 across the state.

Anti-CAA: Mallika Sarabhai joins students, faculty to protest dy CM's 'divisive' talk

By Our Representative
Taking strong exception to deputy chief minister Nitin Patel’s statement against those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), well-known danseuse Mallika Sarabhai has joined tens of activists and students and faculty of Gujarat University, CEPT University, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Nirma University to say that they are seeking “azadi” from the fascist and communal forces of the country.

Mystery around Gujarat PSU 'transfer' of Rs 250 crore to Canadian firm Karnalyte

By AK Luke, IAS (Retd)*
While returning from a Board meeting of the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Ahmedabad some time in 2012, two officers of the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), Nanavaty and Patel,  saw me off at the airport. They said they were proceeding to Canada in connection with a project GSFC had entered into with a company there. As we were running late, I hastily wished them the best.