Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015
Underprivileged Achievers in the Jungle of Predators
Saturday 8 August 2015, by
The sparkling success of two underprivileged brothers, Raju and Brijesh Saroj, of village Rehua Lalganj, district Pratapgarh of Uttar Pradesh in the highly competitive IIT entrance test have earned loud appreciations from home and abroad. Raju secured the 167th and Brijesh the 410th rank in the merit list. Dharamraj, a mill-hand in Surat, Gujarat, earns a monthly sum of Rs 12,000 for a family of seven persons. Knowing their father’s inability to finance their expensive engineering education in IITs, many, by warm humanitarian gesture, have volunteered to support them to tide over their financial crunch.
The day their success story appeared in a widely circulated English daily, excited and worried, I had posted online my comment somewhat like this: ‘Government should immediately provide security, safety and protection to the two achievers. Their achievement in the IIT entrance tests has made them further vulnerable in the eyes of their jealous neighbours/countrymen on caste lines.’ Within half-an-hour, my inoffensive post was deleted from the public forum. This perhaps demonstrates the level of intense orthodoxy and hatred a section of the people nurse against the caste of the underprivileged achievers.
By their successes, they have created simult-aneously admirers and enemies. While they chase their dreams they would encounter many a hazard, for example, ragging, harassment, violence and humiliation in the school wherever they get admission. Biases and prejudices of teachers, besides grudging fellow students, have ruined the careers of many underprivileged students, both girls and boys. Their grading in examinations have been deliberately subjected to caste prism without any avenue for redress even in institutes of national excellence. Instances of discrimination, humiliation and hatred against Scheduled Castes and Tribes involving highly reputed institutes from every corner of the country are on record.
The fact that Dharmaraj’s house has been subjected to vandalism by miscreants on the third day of his sons’ results prove, sooner than expected, my apprehensions correct. Leave aside hundreds of instances of harassment and discrimination common in India for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the long road ahead is really worrisome for the two boys after they enroll themselves in the IITs. That the district adminis-tration has rushed up a section of the police force to Rehua Lalganj for security and safety of the family, living in their thatched house, underlines the explosive situation. This is, I am afraid, just the beginning of the shape of things to come on the way. I do not, however, undermine the gesture of goodwill by generous people towards the two heroes.
Even after 79 years, B. R. Ambedkar continues to be relevant. In his unfailing perception he observed in Annihilation of Caste (May 1936): “The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit [. ............] Caste has made public opinion impossible. Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste-bound. There is no appreciation of the meritorious. [........] There is charity but it begins with the caste and ends with the caste. There is sympathy but not for men of other caste. [...........] The capacity to appreciate merits in a man apart from his caste does not exist in a Hindu. There is appreciation of virtue but only when the man is a fellow caste-man. (Italicised by this author)
In the Company of Hyenas
Instances are aplenty. The headline in the media on March 8 , 2015 captioned, “Dalit girl set on fire for appearing in intermediate exams by guys who’ve been failing it”, is not imaginary. The unidentified girl was set on fire in the Diwan-Tola hamlet of Patthardewa village in Kushinagar district in Uttar Pradesh on March 5, 2015. With 70 per cent burns, in a recorded statement in hospital she identified her attackers as Dhiraj Yadav, Arvind and Dinesh besides their father, Ram Pravesh Yadav. All the four accused barged into the her hut while she was cooking, poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. “They didn’t like I was pursuing my education because they were failing in school every year.”1 This angst against the underprivileged pursuing education runs deep into the psyche of Hindus anywhere under the sun. The victims have no redress in any forum—administrative, police, judiciary—on Indian soil. Miscarriage of justice in all atrocities is almost a foregone conclusion. The educational progress of the underprivileged is grossly disliked by the upper castes. So, they aim at frustrating their ambition and venture by any means—murdering, raping, arson and name any crime you can.
Pradeep Kumar, a Khatik, Scheduled Caste in Haryana, topped in all semesters of the mechanical engineering branch in Kalpana Chawla College of Engineering and Technology, Hissar. This enraged Rajkumar and Kalyan, both Jats, who were his classmates. They felt humiliated by the brilliance of the meritorious Khatik. On the fateful day, the two Jats stopped him at the college gate and, without any provocation whatsoever, pumped four bullets into Pradeep resulting in his spot death. According to media reports, “The two accused, who belong to affluent Jat families, did not like that a backward caste boy was dominating studies and topping in all the semesters.” Insurmountable like the Himalayas, their hatred against the talented Scheduled Caste or Tribe, is the common thread that runs through all Hindus—be they Yadavas, Jats in the north or Vaniyyars in Tamilnadu of the south or else! A private TV channel reported on June 26, 2015 that a Dalit engineer was found dead for talking to an upper-caste friend, a girl.2
Nation’s Pride AIIMS, a National Shame too
On September 12, 2006 the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India constituted a three-member committee comp-rising Prof S.K. Thorat, Chairman, University Grants Commission, Dr K.M. Shyam Prasad, Vice-President, National Board of Examinations, and Dr R.K. Srivastava, Director General of Health Services, the first of its kind, to investigate allegations of discrimination and prejudice against Scheduled Caste and Tribe students in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), considered the pride of the national Capital. The report of this Committee unfolds gory tales of discrimination, dehumani-sation, violence and prejudice against students belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Tribe communities pursuing medical education in this prestigious institute. Upper-caste teachers as well as students were equally blinded by prejudice. Referring to the suicide of a student, the Thorat Committee observed: “What surprises us is the guts and perseverance shown by the rest of Dalit and Adivasi students who have to endure utmost humiliation, dehumanisation and violence and yet survive in a campus that is supposed to train them to become doctors to serve the humanity.”3
A bright student from Madhya Pradesh, Bal Mukund Bharti, was driven to commit suicide in the AIIMS hostel. The authorities dismissed the tragedy with a remorseless statement that he “went into depression as he was not able to cope up with the rigorous academic environment of AIIMS”. Bharti was a Chamar by caste.
The Thorat Committee report is simply shocking. A few citations may help us appreciate the tragedy of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students. It observed that “the SC/ST students do not receive the kind of support that the other students received from their teachers. Non-cooperation is experienced by students in various ways. Given the dependence of students on teachers for learning and skill, the lack of adequate support to the SC/ST reflect in performance and psychological problems, which further leads to lower performance and frequent failure.” (Report, p. 20)
Probing deeper into the attitudinal hostility of the faculty, the committee further noted that “The students belonging to reserve category are failed always. Last year no Scheduled Caste students were allowed to clear in first year final professional examination. For instance, Sujo had got 70 per cent in 1st professional and 55 per cent in 2ndprofessional examination, but was not cleared in last professional examination. Due to this he suffered from mental depression and received psychological treatment.” (Report, pp. 23-24) This is nothing but crime against STs and STs and the wrong-doers have got away with total impunity.
Citing a specific case, the Committee noted that a professor in presence of a colleague stigmatised a student from Ghazaibad as ‘a badmash’ or bad character and declared his ulterior motive in presence of him to stop him from “clearing the examination”. He was made to fail repeatedly till he developed psychological disorder. (p. 23) This country speaks loudly about universal brotherhood—vasudhaiva-kutumbakam, human dignity, and solidarity, which are nothing but shameful pretension if we view the conditions of SC/ST students in the AIIMS. Mind it, the perpetrators of crimes against them are not illiterate men or women.
The cardinal principle of the AIIMS authorities is caste-based segregation. The blight afflicting the authorities in the AIIMS has been noted in (a) allocation of rooms in the hostels, (b) in sharing dining facilities, (c) associated living, (d) participation in cultural events, and (e) games.
Bihar Police Caste Kitchens AIIMS’ Model?
On June 22, 2015, a private TV channel declared gleefully, “Even in the era of twentyfirst century, Bihar Police is engulfed in the casteism of eighteenth century.” The Gaya Police line boasts of “eleven kitchens for Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumhihars and Harijans”. The authorities, however, feigned ignorance of its existence.4
The Bihar Police does not perhaps know their model of caste kitchen has been replicated for hostels in the AIIMS, New Delhi. We now learn that there are two categories of messes for the dining of students — general messes and the private messes. The private messes offer greater variety of food and are also more expensive. While the general messes are open to the reserved categories, the SC/ST students faced restrictions in becoming a member and to have access to the private messes. (p. 33) Identical issues of caste discrimination faced by students of Namasudra and other untouchable castes were, let us recall, agitated before the Simon Commission in Calcutta in 1928. Udayan, a hostel exclusively for Scheduled Caste students of college and university studying in Calcutta is a striking reality even in present-day Calcutta.
The AIIMS being elite medical institution for teaching and research, it does things in style which the Bihar Police perhaps lacks. The sports grounds in the Capital’s pride are also not left untouched by the caste virus. In one of the recorded interviews, a Dalit student underlined this aspect. “They (upper castes/general category students) have formed a group. They play Basketball.........we play Volleyball (laughs)”. Cricket too is an upper-caste game in the AIIMS while Dalits trying to play Basketball received humiliating treatment from the upper castes. (p. 36) So, the Thorat Committee concluded that “Basketball is the game exclusively for the general category students. Volleyball and Football were earmarked there for reserved category students. The students were asked whether they faced discrimination in various games. About 88 per cent of them mentioned that they do face discrimination in access to the Basketball game followed by 60 per cent in cricket. (p. 36) Isn’t the so-called national pride the holy bastion of shame too? India’s elite motormouths have no courage to talk about, much less touch, the protagonists and practitioners of caste exclusion in the AIIMS.”
Ossification of Orthodoxy perfected in Hindu Homes
Needless to say, ossification of orthodoxy for the Hindu faculty members as well as students has been perfected in the homes where they were born, in the culture they were nurtured and in the environment they were brought up, giving birth to an abnormal psychology in them. The toxicity level there has been very high for social harmony and solidarity. Every Hindu under the sun possesses a licence to harm, humiliate, outrage, rape, or even murder any Dalit with perfect impunity and equanimity which is inbuilt in the mechanism called caste. The law rarely catches up with the murderers, rapists, arsonists, violators.
The suicide note recovered from Jaspreet Singh, a Dalit student of Government Medical College, Chandigarh, pointedly “charged his Head of the Department (HOD) with deliberately failing him and threatening to fail him over and over. Seven months later, a three-member group of senior professors re-evaluated Jaspreet’s “answer-sheet and found that he had in fact passed the test”. Jaspreet, a brilliant student though died with his dream. A year later, his young sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, heartbroken at the injustice done to her brother, also committed suicide. According to the report, “His HOD told him (Jaspret) that he might have entered medical college using his Scheduled Caste certificate but he would not go out with a degree. The professor failed him in Community Medicine, a crucial subject, and told him, according to the suicide note, that he will not let him pass. Jaspreet had set his heart on an MD degree from the presti-gious Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. The threat cut short that dream. Hid distraught father Charan Singh exclaimed: “I have no reason to live any-more.” The doctors—Rajesh Kumar, Amarjeet Singh and Arun Kumar Aggrawal—specialised in Community Medicine, the subject in which Jaspreet was failed, are at large yet.5 No civilised country would perhaps spare criminals responsible for driving young students to desperation so that he ultimately commits suicide. But India is a caste nation, the position of everyone is predetermined by birth, with which Hindus do not interfere.
The Thorat Committee faced total disregard, all-out resistance and complete non-cooperation in their investigation from the AIIMS authorities. This was calibrated action on its part. The Committee sought cooperation of the AIIMS administration, particularly Director P. Venugopal, for interaction with the faculty and students. They met the Director and requested for display of notices informing the students about investigation by the committee and the place of meeting for interaction on notice boards. However, to its utter surprise, the Committee did not receive any response from the students and faculties on the stipulated date and time. The level of arrogance of Dr Venugopal is reflected from the fact that he had refused to even respond to the written notice sent by the Secretary, Higher Education Department, Government of India “asking for a status report on the cases of caste-discrimination”. The government could not touch him, much less issue a public reprimand.
The AIIMS, Delhi alone is not the graveyard for Scheduled Caste and Tribe students pursuing higher education. Many institutes of national importance all over India have similar dark and disgraceful records of discrimination and violence against underprivileged students.
The anti-reservation association in the AIIMS claimed in high decibel that there was no caste discrimination in the premier institute. The Government of India did not take any action on the Thorat Committee report for reform in the AIIMS and arrest the incidence of unbridled discrimination and abuse of human dignity. This emboldens the caste lords. The government’s culpability is no less heinous.
I have a word of caution, if not advice, for the two young achievers from Rehua Lalganj. Total dedication, determination and will-power must be their sole guide in the days ahead in their college. They must guard themselves against any flippant ideas making inroad in their minds for distracting them from their mission and dreams. Instances may not be rare when many talented students, after initial sparks, have faded because they fell in bad company that led them into dark tunnels. People from far-off places across the globe have volunteered to help them in fructifying their cherished dreams. Like their parents they too wish them well. Let the countrymen shun their prejudice and attitudinal hostility and stand by the side of every under-privileged child to ensure what poet Rabindra-nath Tagore had dreamed long, long ago:
“Let the buds do not fall down before it bloom on the branches of the tree;
Let the river does not dry in the sands of the desert before it empties itself into the sea.”6
1. Mail Today, Lucknow, March 6, 2015, news captioned “Dalit girl set on fire for pursuing education in UP.”
2. NDTV news caption “Murdered for Talking to Upper Caste Friend? Engineer Found Dead on Railway Track”, June 26, 2015. The channel also told viewers of another case: “
“In 2013, a Dalit man, Ilavarasan, was found dead on the railway tracks in Dharmapuri district in the State a day after his wife refused to return to him citing continuing clashes between both communities and memories of her father. Ilavarasan had married a woman from the higher Vanniyar community which led to her father committing suicide. This had triggered riots against Dalits—around 250 Dalit homes were set on fire. The police said Ilavarasan’s death was a case of suicide and not murder.”
In this case the girl belonged to the dominant upper caste with close political links in the State.
4. India TV, “The casteist face of Bihar Police”, June 22, 2015.
Harijan denotes untouchable in Gandhian parlance. Use of this word to refer to Scheduled Castes has been banned by Government of India. Girijan to refer to Tribal communities too has been similarly banned.
5. A. K. Biswas, “Merit a curse for Dalits?”, Mainstream, Vol L, No 17, April 14, 2012. http://www.mainstream weekly.net/article3390.html
A list of SC and ST students who fell victims to caste prejudice has been furnished.
6. Translation of the poet has been attempted by this author.
A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur (Bihar), the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org