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India's elite educational institutions turning into 'killing fields' for marginalised students

Dr Payal Tadvi
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
The Supreme Court's order allowing the three accused of abetting the suicide of Dr Payal Tadvi – Hema Ahuja, Bhakti Mehare and Ankita Khandelwal – to complete their medical studies is deeply disturbing. It indicates a trend where violence against Dalits and Adivasis seems to be happening with impunity.
Payal belonged to the Adivasi community and worked hard to reach the stage where her dominant caste savarna seniors behaved with her scornfully and tried everything to fail or dissuade her from further studies. Payal's was an institutional murder, in which caste prejudices prevail. If the police worked under public pressure, courts were seen as wanting, and the result is that the court seems to be too much worried about the 'career' of the accused.
Our elite educational institutions have become the killing fields for students from marginalised communities. The atmosphere is so prejudiced that no attempts are made to make them better and feel equitable. There is little effort to bring them in line with the discourse on human rights, social inclusion and equity. In fact, the very term human rights is being degraded and criminalised.
How would you teach students human rights when the noise everywhere – right from your home to society – is that human rights upholders are a 'threat', that they are 'defaming' India. In fact, whenever caste issues are highlighted or discrimination is highlighted, some notorious IT cells are ready with their counter 'narrative' of 'defaming' India and working against 'social cohesion'.
Payal's story is no exception. In August this year, a young doctor belonging to the Dalit community, Dr Yogita Gautam, was brutally murdered by her senior in SN Medical College, Agra. Yogita's family is seeking justice for her and has named the senior for pressuring her. Yogita, 28, was serving Covid patients, while the senior is from another place and claimed to be in relationship with her.
Yogita's family says she never loved him, but he was forcing her, which ultimately resulted in her brutal killing. So far, we have not seen any outrage in the case, probably because the murderer is a Brahmin, and right now the media wants to play the Brahmins as victims card. Nobody knows what has happened to the case, whether chargesheet has been filed and where.
Last week, Dr Bhagwat Devgan, an OBC student in the Jabalpur Medical College, committed suicide, and his family blamed his savarana seniors for mentally and physically torturing him. But nothing has happened to them so far.
The death of some of the doctors belonging to scheduled caste (SC) category in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has not seen any proper investigation. It is AIIMS where the anti- reservation stir first took roots when the then Union human resource development minister, Arjun Singh, announced reservation in higher education.
All know what happened to the Rohit Vemula case. The entire narrative was built in such a way as if he was a criminal. Nobody knows about the status of the case.
In fact, most of the cases related to the massacre of Dalits – whether Chunduru, Karmchedu, Kumher, Shankar Bigaha, Lakshmanpur Bathe or at Khairlanji – never saw any final verdict. And when the Hathras case came into light, we witnessed an immediate counter-narrative and attempt to make the victim family criminal. An Ambedkarite, Se Raj Kumari Bansal, who came from Gwalior to Hathras to express her solidarity and even supported financially was made the scapegoat as a 'Naxalite'.
Supreme Court order in the Dr Payal Tadvi case must be reviewed in broader interests to make our campuses free from caste mindset
Not that other types of discrimination do not take place. There are poor Bramins or other savarnas who also suffer. Then there is discrimination against the physically challenged people, against those suffering from psychological and mental disorders, against those with dark skins, and against those who come from specific regions. There is a need to condemn all forms of discrimination.
But can one deny that there is no caste discrimination in India or there is no untouchability? By raising these issues do you become anti-national? In fact, compared to other forms of discrimination, caste discrimination affects a much bigger population.
It is time our Parliament and political parties take this issue seriously. It is not the case of one Hathras or that this type of discrimination is happening only in a particular State. In fact, one can see how the entire state apparatus behaves and tries to hide dirty realities and plays the caste card.
The Government of India, the Union HRD ministry, the National Human Rights Commission, the Union home ministry, the SC and ST Commissions, the Union ministry for women and child development – all need to sit together and ensure that our campuses are free from caste prejudices and any form of untouchability. The action must be swift and strong.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court should look at these issues comprehensively, and not through one particular case angle, appoint a judicial commission which can submit its report in a stipulated time frame. The commission must have members from SC-ST-OBC communities to ensure that our campuses become democratic both socially and politically.
One cannot allow the death of the younger generation to go on like this. It is the killing of dreams of millions. The order of the Supreme Court in the Dr Payal Tadvi case must be reviewed in broader interests to make our campuses free from the caste mindset.
If the accused get away without any exemplary punishment, others will continue to follow their path and destroy young aspiring lives of those coming from the margins.
---
*Human rights defender

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