On Suicides of Dalit Students in India's
Premier Educational Institutions
By Insight Foundation
30 April, 2011
Linesh Mohan Gawle , a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology (NII) , New Delhi, committed suicide in his hostel room on 16 April 2011. He belonged to a Dalit family from Dindori Tehsil in Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh).
Linesh's suicide is just one more addition in the growing list of Dalit students committing suicides in the country's educational institutions, especially that of sciences and professional courses in recent times. Most of these institutions are considered to be ‘top class' and have ‘All India character'.
The number of students committing suicides in Indian campuses is in itself a big cause of worry for our society and points towards lacunae in our higher education system, proving it to be completely feudal and insensitive towards the students to say the least.
However, the disproportionate numbers of Dalit and Adivasi students committing suicides, especially, in premier institutions also points towards the kind of caste discrimination prevalent in these campuses where our students have to face harassment due to their caste background on a regular basis from not only their colleagues but more from the faculties and even from the administration.
Last year, on March 3rd, 2010, another Dalit, Balmukund Bharti , final year MBBS student from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi committed suicide. He was from Kundeshwar village from Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh. He was a bright student from a very humble background.
His parents accused AIIMS of caste discrimination that drove their son to commit suicide and demanded a probe. However, the police and the AIIMS administration plainly refused to consider this demand and cited ‘personal reasons' for suicide without even conducting a preliminary enquiry.
Knowing the history of caste-discrimination in AIIMS our group decided to investigate the matter and went to Balmukund's home to meet his parents on 1st April 2010.
What came out of our interaction with his parents and other family members was a shocking tale of how a young and bright Dalit student from very poor background was victimized so much on caste grounds in one of the premier educational institutions of the country that despite his entire record of struggle all through his life, he finally lost his willingness to even live.
We recorded the testimonies of Balmukund's parents and his family members, taking small video clips with a digital still camera.
The Documentary ‘The Death of Merit' is based on these testimonies and is a result of our amateur efforts to bring out the truth behind the kind of caste oppression suffered by Dalit and Adivasi students in higher education and the resulting suicides of our bright students like Balmukund Bharti.
It also raises a question on the definition of ‘merit' in the country that is used to denigrate, harass, abuse Dalit and Adivasi students and has become a tool to display caste prejudices openly in Indian campuses both by faculties and other students.
What about the merit of students like Balmukund who defy all socio-economic odds and reach institutions like AIIMS based on their hard labour, determination and will to succeed in life?
Until when will our campuses remain the graveyard of students like Balmukund Bharti, a real meritorious student?
AIIMS AND ITS HISTORY OF CASTE DISCRIMINATION
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi is one of the premier educational institutions of the country and has been in the news since the last few years for rampant prevalence of caste discrimination and the fight of Dalit students against it.
Following are the links that might help us to gauge the gravity of the entire issue.
• ‘Even if I never become a doctor, I will not give up this fight': Ajay Kumar Singh (Tehelka, June 2, 2007)
• Jeetendra Kumar Meena shares what happens with SC and ST students in AIIMS with CNN IBN (26 September, 2006)
• Ghetto in medical hostel - Quota students in AIIMS allege being driven into a corner ( The Telegraph, 5 July, 2006)
Following these allegations from students and news reports of blatant caste discrimination practised against SC and ST students in AIIMS, the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry instituted a three-member committee headed by University Grants Commission Chairperson, S K Thorat , to enquire into the conditions prevalent in the institution.
Thus AIIMS became, probably, the first and until now, the only education institution in the country to be investigated for caste-based discrimination, a phenomenon that is prevalent in almost all the country's educational spaces but has never became ‘public' knowledge.
The Prof Thorat Committee came out with its report in May 2007 and exposed the various forms of caste discrimination practised against our students both by other students and faculty members there and accused AIIMS authorities of ‘encouraging hostile caste discrimination'.
News links on Prof Thorat Committee Report :
• ‘AIIMS apartheid, cricket to class' (The Telegraph, May 7, 2007)
• 'SC/ST students at AIIMS face discrimination' (The Indian Express, May 6, 2007)
However, despite Prof Thorat Committee's report the Indian government chose to completely ignore its findings, its recommendations and did nothing to prevent the continuing discrimination.
• Probe allegations of caste discrimination in AIIMS, High Court tells Centre (The Indian Express, December 6, 2007)
If the government and AIIMS authorities had acted on the Prof Thorat Committee report and its recommendations and tried to prevent the discrimination meted out to Dalit and Adivasi students at AIIMS, Balmukund's family would probably not have been grieving on the death of their bright child today and the community and the country would not have lost a brilliant student, a doctor.
The large number of suicides by Dalit students in Indian educational system, especially in premier science and professional colleges and universities, are a mere pointer towards the widespread prevalence of various forms of caste-discrimination and humiliations that our students have to undergo on a regular basis while pursuing their higher education.
The testimonies of Balmukund Bharti's parents and family members in the documentary also prove the kind of mental torture and harassment our students have to go through just because they belong to the ‘wrong' castes.
Therefore, on behalf of all Dalit and Adivasi students, we demand the Government of India to
• Order investigation into the suicides of Linesh Mohan Gawle (NII) and Balmukund Bharti (AIIMS)
• Appoint an enquiry committee to probe into students' suicides in Indian campuses
• Appoint a judicial commission to enquire about the prevalence of various forms of caste-discrimination in higher education and to come out with stringent measures to prevent such happenings and for punishing the guilty faculty members, students and administration.
• Take steps for immediate implementation of recommendations made by Prof Thorat Committee report and we also demand exemplary punishments for faculty members and students who were involved in harassing our students in AIIMS as per the committee report.
If these demands are not met by the Indian government by 31st May, 2011, the Dalit and Adivasi students and youth will be forced to start a nation-wide agitation from June 1.
We, the Dalit and Adivasi students and youth, are now determined to make our campuses caste-discrimination free and will go to any extent possible to assert our constitutional right of pursuing education in free and fair manner.
· Here is the list of the Dalit students who have committed suicide in last four years.
· This is by no means an exhaustive list but covers only those cases which we were able to document and where parents and relatives have raised their voices and had accused the institutions of caste discrimination against their children that led to their suicides.
· We are sure that the actual numbers of Dalit students committing suicide in country's premier institutions in last four years will be much higher.
1. M. Shrikant, final year, B.Tech, IIT Bombay , 1st Jan 07
2. Ajay S. Chandra, integrated PhD, Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore – 26 Aug, 07
3. Jaspreet Singh, final year MBBS, Government Medical College, Chandigarh , 27 Jan 08.
4. Senthil Kumar, PHD, School of Physics, University of Hyderabad – 23 Feb 08
5. Prashant Kureel, first year, B.Tech, IIT Kanpur , 19 April, 08
6. G. Suman, final year, M.Tech, IIT Kanpur , 2nd Jan, 09
7. Ankita Veghda, first year, BSc Nursing, Singhi Institute of Nursing, Ahmedabad , 20 April, 09
8. D Syam Kumar, first year B.Tech, Sarojini Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vijayawada , 13 Aug, 09
9. S. Amravathi, national level young woman boxer, Centre of Excellence, Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh,Hyderabad , 4th Nov, 09
10. Bandi Anusha, B.Com final year, Villa Mary College, Hyderabad , 5th Nov, 09
11. Pushpanjali Poorty, first year, MBA, Visvesvaraiah Technological University, Bangalore , 30th Jan, 10
12. Sushil Kumar Chaudhary, final year MBBS, Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (formerly KGMC), Lucknow , 31 Jan, 10.
13. Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, 3rd March, 10
14. JK Ramesh, second year, BSc, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangal ore, 1st July, 10
15. Madhuri Sale, final year B.Tech, IIT Kanpur , 17th November, 10
16. G. Varalakshmi, B.Tech first year, Vignan Engineering College, Hyderabad , 30 Jan, 2011
17. Manish Kumar, IIIrd Year B.Tech, IIT Roork ee, 13 Feb, 11
18. Linesh Mohan Gawle, PhD, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi , 16 April, 11
The large number of Dalit and Adivasi students committing suicide clearly indicates the wide-spread prevalence of caste discrimination in the Indian education system, which perceives them as ‘non-meritorious', not fit to belong there.
When a student from the lowest strata of society fights against all odds to prove her merit and reach the best educational institutions in India, are those institutions proving themselves meritorious enough to recognize her worth, to accommodate, let alone nurture her aspirations?
When a Dalit or Adivasi student becomes an engineer, doctor, business graduate or scientist, it should be a cause of pride for not just the family or the community but for the entire nation.
Instead, why do our nation and its educational institutions reward their merit with discrimination, humiliation, violence and death?
The time has come for Dalit and Adivasi students to speak up, share their experiences and bring their struggles in the public domain, so that we can fight together to make our campuses caste discrimination-free.
Our communities cannot afford to lose our bright, young hopes like Linesh and Balmukund, in the hands of an insensitive and casteist educational system.
Insight Foundation is a group of Dalit Youth working for the Dalit and Adivasi students in higher education.
125, First Floor
New Delhi - 49
Telephone - 011 46695837
Fax - 011 66173593
Dalit and Adivasi Students Helpline No - 09999 48 42 49 ( Mon - Fri, 10 am to 5 pm)
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