A Young Doctor's Appeal: Let's Understand Privilege Before We Talk Merit

The toll that casteist remarks take on the mental health of students must be acknowledged.

In March, the Maharashtra government initiated the admission process for medical post graduation for the new academic year – 2019-20. A major debate in this year’s admission season has been the implementation of two new categories of reservation – for economically weaker sections (EWS) and socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC).

Following the release of the seat matrix for the first round of admissions, there was a massive outcry among students in the open category about the reservation. I’m writing this not to debate the constitutionality of EWS or SEBC reservations, but as a student and medical professional from the SC category who has been subjected to inflammatory and infuriating attacks on my credibility as a doctor.

In their attempt to deride the newly-implemented quotas, students from the open category and their parents have waged a social media crusade against all forms of reservation – including caste-based reservation.

Banal hash-tags such as #TheDoctorYouDeserve and #MurderOfMerit have been trending on Twitter and Instagram for more than a month. Just today, I came across a Facebook post by an Internal Medicine resident from Mumbai. The person had updated their name on Facebook to include the phrase “Open Category”, while urging the general public to inquire about their doctors’ caste. Not only does this person have the audacity to display their casteist prejudice – by labelling themselves “Open Category” – but also to express that doctors from reserved categories are not competent to practice medicine.

This is simply not true. Every student, no matter which category he or she belongs to, goes through the same exit exam before he or she becomes a licensed physician or surgeon. To imply that the bar is lower for students from reserved categories is just intellectually dishonest.

Also Read: India’s Universities Are Falling Terribly Short on Addressing Caste Discrimination

This is just one of many times that I have tried to engage with my colleagues from the other side of the aisle. I remember one instance very vividly when, in my undergraduate years, a junior had posted an inflammatory statement online, which – to put it mildly – implied that reserved-category doctors are a danger to society and will only end up killing their patients.

I tried to speak to this person, only to be told that they did not believe there was a single competent doctor from the reserved category in the entire college. Just to be clear, this particular medical college produces 200 M.B.B.S. graduates annually. This junior claimed there was not a single competent reserved category doctor amongst them.

The Indian Medical Association has guidelines for how medical professionals should fraternise with their co-workers, one of which mandates treating colleagues with respect and dignity. Insinuating that a large number of doctors are incompetent solely because they belong to certain castes is definitely a violation of these guidelines.

The anti-reservation stance of medical students and their emphasis on ‘merit’ is ironic, as medical colleges have a large number of management seats where one can pay to get the seat of one’s choice. Discussions around merit should never be carried out in a vacuum, ignoring the social capital and privileges that carry people to where they are.

Privilege to a person is like water to a fish. You only appreciate its existence when you are without it.

It takes time and effort to recognise this. Rainn Wilson, an American actor and comedian, while addressing high-school students in June 2018, made a point to speak about privilege when he said, “Privilege is not something I ever want you to feel bad about,” he said. “What privilege means, is that we have an opportunity. We come from a life of abundance, and our entitlement is not to be entitled, not to be superior, but to acknowledge our privilege and do whatever we can to help those who don’t have it”.

Also Read: Dalit Women in Corporate India are Being Left Behind

Rainn spoke from the point of view of a white, heterosexual man. But we can draw parallels from this statement to upper-caste men and women who benefit from their social capital.

What my colleagues have done by trying to divide Indian medical professionals into those that come from reserved categories and those that come from open categories is discriminatory and exclusionary, to say the least. It also unnecessarily stokes the flames of communal disharmony.

Statements like these are not only taking a toll on my own mental health, but also on that of countless other students and professionals have the choice to be little more than mute spectators to this onslaught. Institutional casteism has directly led to countless cases of suicide.

We should not have to wait for more students to die before we take action.

What I hope to achieve with this essay is to bring into perspective stories about how rhetoric on caste-based reservation affects the mental health of countless students.

As we approach the second round for this year’s post-graduation admission process, students from the open category all over Maharashtra will take part in silent marches to protest the increasing percentage of reserved seats. Dozens of interviews on all news channels will present the same redundant rhetoric about that one rich reserved category person with two cars and iPhones.

Now, I will fight tooth and nail for the right of people to protest for what they believe in, and this article has nothing to do with the constitutionality or morality of EWS and SEBC reservation, but I implore my colleagues to think twice before they go on to make inflammatory – and more importantly false – statements.

I also want to help students and professionals across India who are facing issues with their mental health on account of statements like these. I want them to know that it gets better, and they don’t have to suffer in silence. We need to look out for ourselves and each other.

If you, or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, but cannot afford to seek therapy, you can get in touch with The Blue Dawn – thebluedawn56@gmail.com – an online support group and mental health facilitator exclusively for people from the Bahujan community.

Also Read: How Brahmanical Patriarchy Can Directly Affect Community Mental Health

I write this article as an anonymous author because I believe putting a name to this story would narrow its perspective. This story is not limited to me alone, and many students and professionals across India will relate to it. Additionally, I want to work in the medical industry as a professional in the near future.

This industry, like most others, has a very evident upper-caste hegemony when it comes to the means of earning a good living. To take on this behemoth and possibly jeopardise my professional career especially at a point when I am just a student seems like more than I can handle. This story needs to be told nonetheless.