New Delhi: Doctors at AIIMS organised a meeting on Saturday to deliberate on the issue of caste discrimination in institutions of higher education. The meeting was triggered by the death of Payal Tadvi, an oppressed caste Muslim doctor in Mumbai, who died by suicide on May 22.
Tadvi complained of caste harassment for months to her family, and complaints were also sent to the administration of the hospital where she was doing her residency. However, the harassment by three upper caste women at this hospital allegedly continued until Tadvi’s death.
AIIMS had itself been the site of a major anti-quota agitation in 2006, when the UPA government was planning to increase seats that are reserved in medical colleges. A report later found that caste discrimination was widely prevalent in the institute.
The meeting on Saturday was attended by faculty, resident doctors, nurses and other employees as well as students and teachers from other universities.
The panel which addressed the gathering about caste discrimination was an all-male panel comprised of Professor L.R. Murmu from AIIMS, and other professors from Hindu College, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Delhi.
The panel said Tadvi’s death should be seen in the context of the massive majority received by the BJP in the recent elections, and the rise of extreme right-wing groups and ideas. “These forces epitomise the most reactionary position on the questions of discrimination based on caste, gender and religion,” says a press release about the event.
Professor Ratan Lal from the Hindu College said he too faced caste discrimination, adding that there should be a “persistent struggle against the whole system which excels in discriminating against students, teachers and other people belonging to reserved categories in order to sustain the monopoly of the upper castes in various institutions of higher learning.”
Several people in the audience also spoke about their own experiences of caste-based harassment.
“Greater democratisation of the society by annihilating caste, gender and religious discrimination is a necessary condition to be able to build united struggles against anti-people policies that are being unleashed with renewed vigour on economic, educational and cultural fronts,” says the press release about the event.
Tadvi’s death on May 22 has triggered a series of protests around the country. Police action has also been swift, with the arrest of the three doctors who allegedly harassed Tadvi.
The Wire reported this week, that doctors from India’s top doctor’s trade union, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), seem unconvinced about the enduring prevalence of caste-based harassment and discrimination in India. “There is no caste discrimination in Indian medical field,” Dr Shantanu Sen, the current president of the IMA, told The Wire.
The IMA’s doctors chose to instead explain away testimonies of caste harassment as generic “ragging” issues, unrelated to caste or other marginalised identities.