Thursday, May 24, 2012

The mythology of the Dalit student suicide

In the midst of the ongoing debate over reservation, and outside the media spotlight, Dalit students are struggling for a life of dignity in our nation’s top educational institutions. A new Outlook magazine article by S Anand reveals that age-old bigotry is alive and well on the Indian campus. [Read the story here.]
Suicides by Dalit students in elite institutes like AIIMS, IIT, etc. are a well-known fact – and usually attributed to the “stress” experienced by poorly qualified students who get in due to a quota but are not able to make the grade. There have been 18 Dalit suicides over the past four years, and many do not fit the “couldn’t hack it” profile. Anand rebuts this popular stereotype by offering some recent examples:
Setting aside the debate over the effectiveness of reservation, what these deaths reveal is an India that is simply unable to shake off its feudal legacy of caste. Reuters
Earlier last month, on March 3, Anil Kumar Meena, an adivasi medical student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, killed himself in his hostel room. Educated in the Hindi medium, the son of poor farmers in Baran, Rajasthan, Meena had scored 75 per cent in Class 12 and a second rank in the AIIMS entrance test. He was following in the footsteps of Bal Mukund Bharti, a final year MBBS student, who exactly two years ago hung himself to death in his hostel room in AIIMS. As I write this, news comes of Neeraj Kumar, a first-year Dalit medical student in Lucknow’s Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University, failing in his attempt to take his life.
Anand’s claim is buttressed by a recent documentary, Death of Merit, which took a closer look at three such cases, including Bharti’s:
The first case was that of Bal Mukund, a Jatav (Chamar) Dalit from Kundeshwar in Uttar Pradesh, the first Dalit from the village in 50 years to enter an elite institute like All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. The whole family, including his mother and sister, had toiled hard to pour all their earnings to support Mukund. Mukund, a topper all through his life, had scored 82 per cent in Class X; had won the International Mathematics Contest and cleared the IIT and AIIMS entrance examinations but chose AIIMS as he had the dream of becoming a doctor.
What emerges is a deliberate pattern of harassment by both students and faculty. It’s not just the taunts or physical abuse, but also the threat of losing a hard-earned opportunity:
Jaspreet Singh, a Dalit by birth and a student from Chandigarh, ended his life unable to bear the insults and taunts thrown at him at the medical college library. Unable to overcome the loss of her elder brother, his sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, also committed suicide, heartbroken at the injustice done to him. The suicide note recovered from his coat pocket charged his head of the department with deliberately failing him and threatening to fail him over and over. Seven months later, after the National Commission of Scheduled Castes intervened; a three-member team of senior professors re-evaluated his answer sheet and found that he had in fact passed the examination. NCSC’s intervention only made the police file the FIR under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Setting aside the debate over the effectiveness of reservation, what these deaths reveal is an India that is simply unable to shake off its feudal legacy of caste. And that the burden of post-Mandal anti-reservation fury is being borne by these young men and women. And if these are the attitudes in our highest institutions, what hope do the Dalits have in remote villages?
Anand makes two additional points that offer grist for thought. One, he points out that most “reformist” solutions – usually campus self-enrichment programmes to help Dalits adjust to the culture of these institutions – are aimed at the victims not their oppressors, who are in greater need of re-education.
And two, he underlines the hypocrisy of getting angry about racism against Indian students in places like Australia, while tolerating far greater injustices closer to home.
When Indian students in Australia — predominantly students with surnames like Gupta and Sharma not good enough to make it to IITs, IIMs and AIIMS —are attacked, it is “racism”; it even becomes a diplomatic issue. When Dalit and adivasi students on Indian campuses are hounded to death, there’s not a murmur. What makes Indian society so shameless as to not just deny but even justify such prejudice against Dalits that lead to murders?
Whatever one’s position on the efficacy of reservations in addressing age-old discrimination, Anand’s article raises important questions that deserve serious considerationSource

No comments:

Post a Comment