“If any bad events happen to my son then Dr JV Parikh, Dr Parth Dalal, Dr Pankaj R Modi, Present Head of Department of Surgery, Enquiry Committee and BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad are responsible.”
This was the complaint letter Indhira, a Dalit daily wage labourer from Kadayanallur in Tirunelveli had filed with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (NCSC) in September 2017.
Four months later, her son Dr Mariraj attempted suicide by consuming sleeping pills in Ahmedabad on Friday.
In a heart-wrenching video that has emerged on social media, Dr Mariraj, a Dalit postgraduate medical student from Tamil Nadu is seen narrating the caste-based discrimination he has allegedly faced at the BJ Medical College in Ahmedabad. Evidently still recovering from the trauma of his attempted suicide on Friday, Dr Mariraj recounts the alleged torture in the video.
When asked what his professors did, Dr Mariraj says from his hospital bed, “They are asking me to serve the tea to 50 people (sic).” The voice off-camera asks, “And what would happen?” Dr Mariraj says, “They refuse to allow me to perform surgery. They are torturing me daily. They are taking me out of ward (sic).”
‘They abuse me in Gujarati, make me stand outside ward’
Speaking to TNM, Dr Mariraj, who is a third-year MS General Surgery student, details the caste-based discrimination he has faced both from his peers and from professors in his department.
“From the date I joined, I have been facing caste-related discrimination. They humiliate me by asking me to serve tea. They make me stand outside the ward. They don’t allow me inside the operation theatre. They block my number so I can’t talk about a patient’s case. They checked my degree because they claimed it was fake. My colleagues verbally abused me in Gujarati, in front of everyone. I asked for my unit to be changed but nobody responded,” Dr Mariraj alleges.
What Dr Mariraj describes is something his mother Indhira had highlighted in her complaint to NCSC in September last year. In her letter, she holds three professors responsible for caste-based discrimination at the medical college – Dr JV Parikh, Professor and Head of Unit, Dr Parth Dalal, Assistant Professor and Dr Pankaj Modi, who is the Head of Surgery Department at BJ Medical College and who was also part of the inquiry committee that looked into Dr Mariraj’s complaint of caste-based discrimination.
“All resident doctors are allowed to take seminar class in the department except my son. Dr Pankaj R Modi told my son not to take any seminar in the department,” reads one of the allegations in the complaint.
In another incident, Indhira writes, “One day, one of the department professor Dr Pankaj R. Modi forced my son to serve tea for all (about 35 people) from his own money during his senior pre-university exam and insulted him in front of everyone and laughed at my son.”
‘Never knew he is a Dalit’
Speaking to TNM, Dr Pankaj, however, denied caste-based discrimination against Dr Mariraj, claiming that he did not know that he is a Dalit until the inquiry committee was constituted. Dr Pankaj says, “The reason (behind the allegations) may be that I was one of the persons who was in the inquiry committee appointed by the dean. And actually, I am also from OBC. There is no question of discrimination. Our Head of the Department is also from the Scheduled Caste. And half of the inquiry committee is from the Scheduled Caste. So, you can name anybody for anything but I am saying I actually never knew that he is a Dalit. Actually, it was only during the inquiry that I came to know he is a Dalit.”
Dr Mariraj points out that the inquiry committee was flawed from the very beginning, pointing out, “There were no external members. Only department members. When I complained to my PG Director, he said they would form another committee. But they have not formed a committee.”
When TNM contacted Professor and Head of Unit Dr JV Parikh, who is also named by Mariraj, he hurriedly says, “He can do anything. You talk to the superior officer.”
Assistant Professor Dr Parth Dalal, whose name also figures in the complaint, distanced himself from Dr Mariraj’s suicide attempt. “Yesterday’s (Friday) incident is different, I’m not involved. He was not working under me,” says Dr Parth.
With regard to the allegations against him, he says, “The committee is going on. I am his PG teacher, that’s why my name is there. It’s all going on. I’ve given a report to the committee. I am a very small man, you talk to the HOD. I am his PG teacher, that is the problem.”
‘They are making me a slave’
Dr Mariraj had allegedly called his brother on Friday to say that he would commit suicide as he was tired of all the discrimination he was facing. His brother Muthukumar, an IIT Kanpur graduate working in Japan, called his friends in India and tried to stop Dr Mariraj from making the fateful decision. Fortunately, one of Mariraj’s friends spotted him and rushed him to the hospital where he is now recovering.
Speaking about the events that drove him to attempt suicide, Dr Mariraj says, “Yesterday (Friday), they didn’t allow me to operate. When I asked, my classmate said that they would decide what I am allowed to do. They said they will not allow me. When I complained to the Professor Dr Prashant V Mehta he said I could work in the ward and I could diagnose but they would not allow me to operate on patients.”
Resolving to continue the fight, Dr Mariraj says, “I have proof for all this. I have been suffering like this for two-and-a-half years. They are harassing me. They are making me a slave and a tea boy. They are threatening to not pass me.”
Demanding that action be taken under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Dr Mariraj also hopes that there will be light at the end of the tunnel and that he will be able to transfer to another university in Tamil Nadu.