‘EVEN IF I NEVER BECOME A DOCTOR, I WILL NOT GIVE UP THIS FIGHT’
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.
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.”
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.
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.
We all are with you Ajay.