Tuesday, 5 June 2007

A MILLION SALUTE TO THIS BRAVE HEART

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.

‘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.
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.

5 comments:

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

This is an eye-opener! I have lived in hostels with all SC, ST and OBC students all my life, but I didn't know that the general 'category' people went to such lengths to make life miserable for others. This is a direct result of caste-based reservations: they are succeeding in dividing up people based on their last names. My complete sympathies with you, Ajay... may you live long and shine bright!

anoop kumar said...

To Sudipta

I really marvel at the innocence shown by 'general' category towards caste based discrimination and towards issues related with caste.

How can Sudipta absolve the crimes of UC Doctors of AIIMS by saying that it was direct fall out of reservation policy ??

May be he/she can enlighten me how about centuries of discrimination amd prejudices going on unabated before reservation policy was enshrined in the Indian constituion?

The behaviour of Doctors of AIIIMS has nothing to do with reservation but they are carrying the legacy of hatred , prejudice and contempt for dalit community based on caste system.

Their religious and cultural traditions have conditioned them to look down on dalits and encash any opportunity of harassing the dalits be it in a rural background or institutes of higher learning.

Anoop Kumar

Screen Sifar said...

I totally support your struggle.
Keep it going and dont stop.
There are enough of us who want this senseless discrimination out, and there are enough of us who have had enough of tryannical, discriminatory and degrading politics.
Knowing the history of Dalit oppression it is about time someone came out and spoke.
We are a free country.We are not going to take this lying down.We have seen enough.
I'm a Muslim living and working in Gujarat and I understand what it is to be discriminated against because of your history.
This is all going to change.We will be able to lift our heads with dignity one day.I see it coming. :)
Keep fighting until you can.
In solidarity,
Raheema

Dheeraj said...

Dear Anoop,
I have a similar background like you but I havent faced discrimination to the extent you have faced.It is sad to see organized discrimination in premier institutes.I personally do not see any 'low competence' in category students in medical colleges.During these days the cut offs are not grossly different in percentage terms to show significant 'competence deficits'.You are a victim in this generation.Our forefathers were victims for many.Though I cant share your pain,I am with you in your struggle.
God bless you...

dr.anusha patrick said...

this sucks...i'm glad that i went thru this article....remember those who call themselves high castes have proved by their words and thoughts towards u that they r worse than the animals around!!!they r inhuman. my caste is that of MANKIND and i am with you in all your endeavours to fight against those animals1