I was in Class viii when I first heard about AIIMS, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. My mother was a nurse, and the doctor she worked with in Etah, my hometown, had a nephew at AIIMS. He visited Etah once, and my mother was very keen that I meet him. “You need to read a lot if you want to go to AIIMS,” he said. That’s when I told myself I’d study there somehow, someday.
As soon as my parents left, I was summoned by my neighbour, a senior, who asked me to introduce myself. Among other things, I told him I had stood first on the Scheduled Caste list. The next moment I found myself outside the room, on the ground; he had pushed me out. That was just the first day. The next time he tried to insult me, I told him I’d complain. While he never spoke to me as long as he was on campus, he told his friends about the incident and they boycotted me too.
Ever since, I have been reminded of my “low” status every moment I have been here. I was the only “Category” student in my wing. One day, I found this on my door: “Nobody likes you here. F**k off.” On another day: “Everybody can use the carom board, but not Room No 45.” People would bang and kick at my door at all hours, disappearing by the time I opened it. They tried their best to make me leave, but I told myself I wouldn’t, no matter what. I gradually isolated myself from them, and started interacting only with others from the “Category”.
I had been to school at the Navodaya Vidyalaya for seven years, and I knew about casteism from my experience there, but it was nothing compared to AIIMS. In school, I used to think I wouldn’t have to go through the same humiliations if I were at a big institution. I came to the biggest of them all, but in vain. At least we would eat together at Navodaya.
It is true that not all General Category students are casteist, but caste cuts through everything at AIIMS. They won’t talk to us. We have no representation in the students’ union this year. They won’t let us play cricket; in a basket ball match, they won’t pass us the ball once. The hatred was out in the open in 2003, during Pulse (AIIMS’ annual medical college festival). They beat up a Dalit student so badly that it was a miracle he survived. We went to complain, but the administration was ready only to dismiss both parties: those who attacked and those who were attacked. Having been beaten up, he didn’t want to go through that, so he withdrew.
The harassment reached a high during the anti-reservation protests of 2006. There were more than a thousand outsiders staying on campus during those days. They slept in our hostels and ate in our messes. Derogatory remarks were common: “Yeh chamar log kya karenge?” They were always trying to start fights so they could bash us up. They even made plans to beat up a few resident doctors. There was no point complaining. Nobody was willing to listen. The media chose to portray last year’s events as if everyone at AIIMS — scs, sts and obcs included — was against reservation. “Category” juniors were dragged out during ragging and forced to participate in the protests; in many of these, they came under baton charges from the police. I could see them going through trauma; I took the initiative and told the director that ragging was being prolonged even after the stipulated time. Nothing happened. They also beat up our gym secretary, a “Category” student. That got all of us very upset. Pushed to the wall, we decided to submit a memorandum. The director, Dr P. Venugopal, promised to act within 24 hours — and he did. All the people we named were informed, and all of them came to each one of us and threatened us with dire consequences if we did not withdraw the complaint. We didn’t; instead we wrote another, this time to the President of AIIMS. There was no response. Then we went to the media.
We were accused of obstructing Pulse 2006. They did that to malign us and turn student sentiment against us. We put up posters clarifying our stand — we had nothing against Pulse, we just wanted the harassment stopped. During Pulse, a cd was circulated with a film showing the burning of books written by Babasaheb Ambedkar. I called a press conference against the film; I didn’t get much support. An enquiry committee was appointed, and they asked me why I was out to tarnish AIIMS’ reputation. I told them I had no choice when no help was forthcoming.
Never before had a “Category” student raised his voice this way.
They decided to teach me a lesson, and send out a message to all the “Category” students of the campus. They failed me in my final professional exam, which was in December. If I fail three times, I will be disqualified. My re-examination was video-recorded — though it is unheard-of, I wouldn’t have had any problem had they informed me beforehand. I wrote another complaint to the director about this illegal recording. A day before the results were due, my result was leaked. Posters were pasted all over campus declaring that the student who had complained and called the press conference had failed. I filed a police complaint. We held a series of protests, as a result of which the Centre formed a committee headed by the University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdeo Thorat, to look into the matter. The AIIMS director did not even allocate it a room, and the hearings happened off-campus. I gathered everyone and we went to depose in groups.
I knew I would fail when the only question I was asked on my viva was: “What is your involvement with the Thorat report?” Six or seven students had scored lower in the internal marks than I — all passed, I did not. I was failed in medicine in my re-professional exam by one-and-a-half marks. We later got to know that the faculty association had passed a resolution two days before the vivas that no one would take my re-examination viva. And the director still hasn’t accepted the governing body’s order to grant me re-examination with a new set of examiners.
All this is being done to scare my juniors. My case will be an example, since I am in my final year.
I had an opportunity recently for an internship at the University of Penn-sylvania. AIIMS couldn’t do anything about it, so they got in touch with their seniors there, who, as I have heard, assured them they would “set me right”.
If I am not destined to be a doctor, I won’t be. But I will not give up this fight. Even if I never become a doctor, I have a great satisfaction already. No voices were heard in the past. Now people are willing to come to protest. There are 45 “Category” boys at AIIMS, and whenever there is a protest, at least 40 of them turn up.
Though my father is an auto driver, people respect him in my hometown. My parents have taught me to safeguard my dignity at all costs, and that’s what I am doing now. Though it was not easy, I don’t feel it has been all that tough either.
As told to Praveen Donthi
Jun 02 , 2007