Mumbai: The trial in medical doctor Payal Tadvi’s alleged death by suicide case is yet to begin. But the three accused doctors have expressed in the meantime that they wish to return to college to complete their post-graduation in gynaecology.
The Maharashtra state government has strongly opposed the accused persons’ special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court and has relied on the Anti-Ragging Committee’s report that had found them guilty of torturing and harassing Tadvi.
In two separate affidavits – filed by the Mumbai police and the state’s Medical Education and Drugs department – the state government has said that their demands “don’t deserve to be considered” and there is a “grave sense of hostility” against the accused persons in the college they had once studied.
The three accused – Hema Ahuja, Bhakti Mehare and Ankita Khandelwal – had moved the Supreme Court in March, soon after the Bombay high court refused to give them relief. The trio, Tadvi’s senior in the BYL Nair Hospital in south Mumbai, had moved the court claiming that they are doctors and hence “corona-warriors” and should be allowed to pursue their education along with “serving the nation”.
The accused had sought a transfer to another college in case studying in the same college was not possible. The case was scheduled for hearing today, September 8, but has been adjourned till September 14.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra representing the accused in the apex court had proposed that they be allowed to migrate to one of the three other colleges under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in case they can’t continue their education at BYL Nair Hospital. This submission was opposed both by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and Tadvi’s mother, Abeda Tadvi. While the MCI had stuck to its rule book and said students can’t be migrated from one college to another, Abeda Tadvi, represented through her (senior) advocate Indira Jaisingh had claimed that such an arrangement would have an adverse impact on the yet-to-be commenced trial.
Both Tadvi’s family and their lawyer have maintained that allowing the students back in the same premises would expose the witnesses in the case to their direct influence. The police have recorded over 250 witness statements in the case and most of these witnesses are junior students who had also been allegedly tortured by the accused person.
Payal, a 26-year-old postgraduate resident doctor, was subjected to sustained humiliation and torture by her three caste Hindu seniors and finally ended her life on May 22.
Tadvi, a doctor belonging to the Tadvi Bhil (of the larger Bhil ethnic group) tribal community, was perhaps the first woman from her community to have studied medicine. After completing her undergraduate degree from a medical school in Jalgaon, she had moved to Mumbai to pursue a post-graduation in gynaecology. But at the hostel, the three accused doctors had allegedly treated her badly and taunted her for having secured admission under reservation.
In an affidavit filed by Avinash Shingate, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Detection), Central, CID, Mumbai, it is stated that the police are bound by the Bombay high court’s order to complete the trial in ten months from the date of framing of charges. Shingate has also stated that although the police have collected over 250 witnesses, the prosecution would be focusing on approximately 60 important witnesses in the case.
The state’s Medical Education and Drugs department has also opposed the accused persons’ application citing similar reasons and has laid further stress on the ragging committee’s report that was submitted on May 25, just three days after Tadvi’s death.
“The anti-ragging committee of BYL Nair charitable hospital, Mumbai dated 25.05.2019 clearly points out that the petitioners have committed ragging on deceased Dr. Payal Tadvi. The said committee has recommended the suspension of petitioners from the college/ hospital until further orders. I say that, as the petitioners are already suspended from the BYL Nair charitable hospital, they cannot be accommodated to any other college/hospital under the subsistence of said suspension order.” Surendra Chankar, the deputy secretary of the Medical Education and Drugs Department, has stated in his affidavit filed on September 7.
“It is observed that Dr. Payal Tadvi was subjected to mental harassment by ill-treatment and also abused by three senior postgraduate students namely Dr. Hema Ahuja, Dr. Bhakti Meher, and Dr. Ankita Khandelwal. She was threatened that she will not be allotted clinical work for the next period (semester)… After reading the conversation on the WhatsApp group (The accused had formed a group with their juniors, including Tadvi, on it), we have come to know about the type of harassment against Dr. Payal Tadvi,” the committee report states.
The committee had also held Dr Yi Ching Ling, the head of the gynaecology and obstetrics department at the hospital, for not taking action against the accused despite being told by Tadvi’s husband Dr Salman Tadvi and mother Abeda Tadvi about the problem several times. Another faculty head Dr S.D. Shirodkar was also held responsible for not doing enough to help Tadvi.
The anti-ragging committee had relied on statements by 21 doctors and hospital staff of the BYL Nair hospital. Tadvi’s close friend and also a crucial witness in the case, Dr Snehal Shinde, had also deposed before the committee.
Shinde, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste community, too, had been allegedly tortured and discriminated by the accused persons. Both Tadvi and Shinde had endured the treatment until Tadvi finally decided to kill herself. Shinde is presently continuing with her studies in the same college.
Advocate Disha Wadekar, representing the family in the case has pointed to existing case laws and rules that don’t allow abrupt migration of students, especially when have been found guilty of ragging a junior student. “The MCI’s Anti Ragging Regulations, 2009 have clear provisions regarding suspensions from attending classes and other academic privileges. The anti-ragging committee of the college had followed the due process and suspended them after finding them guilty of harassing (Payal) Tadvi, who was their junior and was directly reporting to them,” Wadekar told The Wire.
The government has also stressed on the fact that the accused persons already hold MBBS degrees and there is no restriction on them to practice medicine. “They can continue with their Post Graduate course at any time in the future after the conclusion of the trial. There is no pressing urgency to allow petitioners to permit migration/accommodation in any other college/hospital. HC has already expediated their trial and the trial court has been directed to complete it in 10 months from the date of framing of charges,” the government affidavit has stated.
The Maharashtra government had earlier remained a passive spectator in the special leave petition filed by the accused in the Supreme Court. However, following agitation from several anti-caste organisations, including Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, the state government has now ostensibly been compelled to act in the case.