'When we are constantly made to feel inferior, we internalise it': MBBS student from Tadvi Bhil community speaks up after Payal Tadvi suicide
Vijay Tadvi is a 19-year-old second-year undergraduate MBBS student at another college in Mumbai. Vijay, though unrelated to Payal, shares a similar socio-economic background and hails from the same district in Maharashtra.
Editor's Note: The suicide of 26-year-old Payal Tadvi, who was a second-year postgraduate gynaecology student at the TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai, has sparked outrage across the country against caste discrimination in the medical field, and also in academia as a whole.
As demands for justice for Tadvi get louder, and reports talk about the "extreme harassment" she faced from three senior colleagues which pushed her to suicide, it is necessary to note that the daily lives of students from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes continue to be fraught with instances of discrimination.
Vijay Tadvi is a 19-year-old second-year undergraduate MBBS student at another college in Mumbai. Vijay, though unrelated to Payal, shares a similar socio-economic background and hails from the same district in Maharashtra. He is part of the same system in the medical fraternity that subjects students from lesser privileged backgrounds to discrimination. Tadvi spoke to Firstpost's Natasha Trivedi about how it’s time for students to shake off the complacency towards caste discrimination. Below is his first-person account as told to Firstpost:
'If you are a reserved category student, you don't deserve to be here' — This has become a constant, regular refrain in our lives. Those of us who are studying medicine under the quota available for the SC and ST communities, are frequently dismissed and talked down to: "You don't know anything, you are from the quota category."
It's not always meant to be an affront; sometimes it comes from a friend circle or peers during debates and discussions, other times it is as an admonishment from seniors or professors for mistakes in the coursework, or for asking questions about something in the syllabus. Sometimes the comments also involve casteist slurs.
Either way, we have adapted and learnt not to take these comments too seriously but I think it must stop here with Dr Payal Tadvi's suicide.
(Dr) Payal, who was from the Tadvi Bhil community in Maharashtra's Jalgaon like me, would have become the first gynaecologist from our community. She was bullied by three seniors for almost six months before she took her own life on 22 May.
The three accused doctors, who have been charged with abetment to suicide among other sections of the IPC, reportedly put her through "unbearable torture" by threatening to hold her back from graduating the second year in the PG course and using "foul language" to target her.
Any student of medicine belonging to SC, ST or even OBC (Other backward classes) and NT (Nomadic Tribe) will tell you that they have faced severe discrimination in some form or the other.
However, what Payal faced must have been especially unbearable for her to take such a drastic step. All MBBS students are mentally prepared for the stress of the profession — starting from preparations for the entrance exam till actually getting into a medical college. And students from less privileged backgrounds should be prepared for twice as bad.
While I understand that the reservation system has flaws, I think it's unfair for students from the general or open category to direct their frustration towards students who have joined through the quota.
When we are constantly made to feel inferior, or undeserving, we internalise it. It's true that students of the general category have secured more marks, but what is also important to consider is the hardships faced by the students who have scored 'low marks' like 300 or 400 out of 720 in the entrance exam. With the right resources, they could have scored above 600 too.
That was the first thing I was asked when I came to Mumbai to get admission in the Grant Medical College two years ago. "What was your score?", to which I replied, "300." "Oh, you have joined through reserved category," they responded. Clerks, admission officers, professors — everyone does it.
They don't know that both my parents are agricultural labourers who can't spare time to accompany me to Mumbai during the admission process. They do not know that I scored 90 percent in my 12th CBSE board exams in the Navoday Vidyalaya school. They do not know that I prepared for the NEET exam by myself, without any external help or coaching. Maybe if they did, they would agree that I deserved to be here because of merit in overcoming the odds and securing a seat in a medical course in a 'big city'.
I come from the Sangavi village in the Jamner tehsil in Jalgaon, and my village has a population of only about 300 to 400 people. I am the first from my village to study medicine and will be the first doctor after I graduate. People think Mumbai is a very modern city, where everyone comes to learn and is on an equal footing. I was shocked when I experienced the first undercurrent of caste discrimination; it is the last thing I had expected.
When I came here initially, I didn't anticipate that I will be looked at through the lens of having come from a 'reserved category' community.
The 'othering' manifests in various ways. Mistakes, whether trivial or serious, receive the same kind of criticism from seniors. In the medical field, senior students are supposed to be the backbone of the learning process. Heads of departments or units don't have the bandwidth to monitor each student, and with such a situation, senior students play a vital role in how much a student learns.
From guidance on reading material to out-of-classroom help in understanding concepts, a huge chunk of a medical student's performance is dependent on the senior students. But, if they decide to discriminate against you and keep you from important lessons, like in Payal's case, it becomes extremely difficult. The department should be accountable to keep such instances in check.
With how things are now, I'm scared for the future. I want to continue to study in Mumbai after I complete my MBBS. I am planning to pursue a PG in surgery. But how will there be any lasting change if no one is willing to address the 'small' instances of caste discrimination happening every day? Most students don't want to speak against it because they don't want to get on the wrong side of the faculty or the seniors.
The grievance redressal committee, supposed to be instituted in every college is only a 'list', in my opinion. A list which says that the HoD, senior doctors, etc are a part of the committee, but in reality, there is no support from such a platform. There is no contingency to check the discrimination before it becomes a headline in the newspapers.
It would be wrong to say that discrimination is done by individuals because it is a system. The mentality of caste-based discrimination has continued even though people say there is no such thing in a city like Mumbai.
I am so angry about the kind of treatment that was given to Payal, I am angry beyond the conversation of caste and the social order. I am angry as a human being, that another was pushed to do this because of the behaviour of a few people around her. I am angry, I am scared, and I am feeling hopeless about any sort of tangible change until the caste-based mentality — which is so ingrained in our society — changes to one which is rational and logical, and is not biased.
Efforts to change such a mentality is an uphill task. If it's one person, maybe we can change their perception through conversations, but how can we educate the entire human race? There are campaigns, and they make their mark in specific ways, but I feel like it's very tough to make a lasting impact. It has to come from within.
As told to Natasha Trivedi
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