Wednesday, 20 June 2007


In the country’s top medical college, Sateesh Meena is not allowed to dine or play cricket with upper caste students. Neither, he says, is any other Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe student.

Daily life at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences resembles that in the country’s feudal outbacks and Apartheid-era South Africa, a government committee has discovered, confirming findings reported by The Telegraph.

“Some would just get up and walk away when I would sit at the table (in the mess),” said Jiten Dash (name changed, like Meena’s), according to transcripts of conversations the panel had with SC and ST students.

The committee interviewed 25 reserved-category students — half their total number at the institute — of whom almost all said they were told “not to play basketball or cricket by the upper caste students”. “Football and volleyball (that the upper castes don’t fancy) were the only sports we were allowed to play,” Meena said.

The committee claims “enough evidence” that the discrimination is “linked” to the “proactive role the AIIMS administration played” in fanning anti-quota sentiments on campus.

During last year’s anti-reservation agitation, AIIMS authorities had allowed student protesters from other institutions, too, to gather on the campus. No other central institution did so.

Most of those the committee interviewed alleged the teachers ignored Dalit students in class and deliberately failed them in exams, especially the practical tests.

“Even in internship, they are harassing (us)… now they are threatening us about the exams that are coming,” a medico complained against teachers. “Last year, out of seven students… six were failed — nearly by one or two marks.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had personally intervened to set up the three-member committee, headed by University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdeo Thorat, after this newspaper reported the campus discrimination.

The panel confirmed the finding that reserved category students were bullied into vacating their hostel rooms, leading to an SC/ST ghetto being formed on two floors of Hostels 4 and 5.

Each of the 25 interviewed said that despite a ragging ban, they were humiliated when they had joined. “They would call us to their rooms and order us… ‘tell us 10 reasons why you should get reservation… if you don’t we’ll beat you’,” one of them said.

“These incidents happen every year. Whenever a new batch joins they are treated like this,” a general category student confirmed.

The authorities ignored repeated complaints from the SC and ST students, encouraging their tormentors.

One Dalit boy who tried to join general category students in a game of basketball was thrashed, the committee noted. Another boy was told to “get out” by the cook when he walked into the mess where the upper castes dined.

The committee said the institute, despite requests, “has not taken any initiative to arrange remedial coaching in English, basic courses or any other spheres for SC/ST students as is required by central government educational institutions”.

Unlike many other central institutions, it lacks a grievance cell for SC and ST students. The committee has recommended that AIIMS set up an “equal opportunity office (EOO)”, answerable to the institute’s governing body and not the hospital administration.

The panel has also suggested that committees in AIIMS at every level — dealing with student, faculty or administration issues — have SC/ST members.The committee last evening submitted its final report to health minister Anbumani Ramadoss

Chandramohan Vs. AIIMS Dalit students

The one-eyed twice-borns
Confronting the extremist fringe of the Right comes easy to the liberal-secular set but it ignores the more widespread casteist slurs by other sections of society
Two recent incidents, seemingly unrelated, demonstrate how the “secular” common sense can react in shockingly contrasting ways.
The first, much publicised case from MS University, Vadodara, involves Chandramohan Srimantula’s paintings, the rightwing opposition to his work, and the subsequent rallying of the secular-liberal intelligentsia around the victim.
About the same time, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, a case of blatant victimisation of a postgraduate student, Sukhbir Singh Badhal, was reported. The case came to light through the findings of a three-member committee inquiring into caste discrimination at AIIMS headed by University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdeo Thorat.
Badhal had stood first in a selection examination in lab medicine, but he was superseded by the second-ranker in the appointment to the coveted post of senior resident at the department of lab medicine.
While Chandramohan’s victimisation outraged a cross-section of voices — artists, academics, writers, actors, public intellectuals, lawyers, concerned citizens — there was no one to take up Badhal’s cause. While a Free Chandramohan Committee quickly came into existence, a Help Badhal Committee did not materialise. Crucial here is the fact that Badhal happens to be a Dalit, and a Dalit who could stake a rightful claim to an institutional position without taking recourse to reservation. He had topped in the General category..........


No matter how hard they try, there's no escaping their identity. The merit list displayed on the notice board announces it. This rank is their introduction to upper-caste seniors, during friendly ragging sessions, which could later become an outlet for the frustration of general category students.

Like the final-year AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) student, who made a reserved category fresher sit on the ground while a brahmin fresher sat on a chair, next to him. The senior asked him to say, "I am from a lower caste," repeatedly, to show him his place in the premises, where he had gained an "easy" entry this year.

Hostels then become ghettoes. In AIIMS, quota students chiefly occupy the top two floors of the hostel. An engraved message on the door of one quota student on another floor asked him to "get out of this wing".

Final-year student Ajay Kumar Singh still recalls the day he shifted from room number 43, which had leakage problems, to number 45. The whole wing was otherwise occupied by general category students, who promptly put up a board on top of the common carrom board, "Everyone except occupant of room number 45 can play."

A reserved category student, who managed to become the gym secretary of AIIMS, resigned from his post as the financial secretary (a general category student) refused to release him funds. "He was chased around and beaten up by the executive heads of the student council," says Sunil Chumber, sub-dean of AIIMS.

It is believed that several professors are on the side of the anti-reservation battalion. That's why during the recent agitation, some pro-reservation students hid their faces behind their placards, so that their professors wouldn't spot them. Once their pro-reservation rally was even mistaken by newspapers as an anti-reservation demonstration. Dalit students survive through a hard skin formed after a whole life replete with insults.

Some have heard upper-caste neighbours call the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar airport at Nagpur, "the scheduled caste airport". Some have lived in colonies where upper-caste boys wouldn't lend them their cricket bats.,curpg-2.cms


There are only a handful of Dalit students and faculty members at the elite institute, but they face widespread discrimination and harassment.

According to information provided by the institute’s deputy registrar, Dr K. Panchalan, in September 2005, Dalits accounted for only 11.9 percent of the number of students. They were even fewer in the higher courses — 2.3 percent in ms (Research) and 5.8 percent in Ph.D. Out of a total of 4,687 students, Dalits made up only 559.

Activists who have been fighting for proper implementation of reservations for Dalits describe IIT Madras as a modern day agraharam — a Brahmin enclave.
Located on a 250 hectare wooded campus in the heart of the city, the majority of the 460 faculty members and students here are Brahmins. According to WB Vasantha Kandasamy, assistant professor in the Mathematics department, there are just four Dalits among the institute’s entire faculty, a meagre 0.86 percent of the total faculty strength.
There are about 50 OBC faculty members, and the rest belong to the upper castes, she says.
Vasantha says Dalit Ph.D scholars are routinely harassed. “They are forced to change their topic of research midway. They are unduly delayed, and are failed in examinations and vivas. It is a stressful atmosphere for them.” She says her support of Dalit students got her into the bad books of the management.

IIT director MS Ananth is an Iyengar Brahmin. So are four of the six deans in the institute.

In 2000, the PDK published a book based on a study it did on the anti-Dalit attitude in the institute. The study noted that there were several departments at the institute where even after 41 years, “not a single Dalit student has been selected for doing Ph.D or has successfully completed his degree”.
The study also stated that, “almost all M.Tech and ms Students in IIT were Brahmins.”
The PDK is now demanding that the institute come out with a white paper providing details of the total number of Dalit students who have completed postgraduate and doctoral programmes. “The National Commission for SC/ST should closely monitor if reservation policy for Dalits is being strictly followed in student admissions,” says Viduthalai Rajendran, PDK general secretary.
The PDK is not alone in levelling such charges. Retired ias officer V. Karuppan, who is state convener of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), recalls that in 2005 a “meritorious” Dalit student was denied admission to the Ph.D course in the Mathematics department. “They didn’t call him for an interview initially. But he was asked to appear for the interview after we argued his case with the authorities. But in the interview, they asked him irrelevant questions and failed him,” he says.

There have been many complaints of discrimination against Dalit students in the campus. The PDK study cites the case of a Dalit student Sujee Teppal, who had scored 94 percent in Maths, Physics, and Chemistry in the public intermediate exam.
Sujee had also secured admission in bits, Ranchi and bits, Pilani but chose to attend IIT Madras, where in spite of her meritorious track record she was made to join the mandatory one-year “preparatory course” for Dalit students. According to the PDK study, “at the end of the course in which she only re-learnt her 12th standard syllabus, she was declared failed.” The institute refused to reverse its decision in spite of the intervention of the National Commission for SC/ST and the then state SC/ST minister Selvaraj in her favour.

Another serious charge against the institute is that successive directors have flouted rules in appointing faculty members, and do not advertise vacancies in newspapers. Former Congress MP Era Anbarasu has brought the issue to the notice of Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh in several letters. In the memorandum submitted to the minister on September 2, 2006, he states: “The ambiguity is apparent because even the number of vacancies is not announced.

A PIL filed by Karuppan last year against the allegedly flawed selection process in IIT Madras was dismissed by the High Court. Karuppan has now filed a review petition. He also met the IIT director along with a senior leader of the CPI to discuss the reservation issue, and says the director told him that no policy of reservation for SC/ST was applicable to IIT Madras. Karuppan says there are several cases pending in courts against the institute’s selection and reservation policy. They include writ petitions by the IIT Backward Classes Employees Welfare Association, and the Vanniar Mahasangam.

An angry Thol Thirumavalavan, general secretary of the Dalit Panthers of India, says, “Dalits are only working as sweepers and scavengers in the institute”. He wants the IIT management to release a white paper containing details of appointments and admissions given to Dalits and OBCs. “The Tamil Nadu government should demand this information from the institute,” he says.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


This is the story of Ajay Kumar Singh, a victim of casteism by AIIMS director Venugopal, the faculty and the 'general category' students. This is enough to drive a normal human being up the wall, but he has decided to fight it, at the cost of the biggest achievement of his life.


AJAY KUMAR SINGH - Born in 1982. Grew up in Etah in Uttar Pradesh. Gained admission in 2002 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Is in his MBBS final year.

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.

My father, who drives an autorickshaw, wouldn’t have been able to send me to Delhi for coaching had it not been for my Physics teacher who helped me get a concession on the fees. I got into AIIMS with 66.16 percent, the same as the “General” cut-off that year. Nirpat Singh, the autodriver, and Munni Devi , the nurse, were very proud of their son. It was a big moment for all of us when we entered the campus of India’s premier medical sciences college.

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.