Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh: On October 1st, Dr. Bhagwat Dewangan first year PG medical student committed suicide. According to family member, he had been mentally tortured and harassed by his so-called “upper caste” (savarna) seniors for months. He was 28 years old.
Bhagwat Dewangan was a resident of Rahoud, a small town in Janjgir-Champa, and his father sold utensils in the village. Bhagwat was considered a bright and promising student; after studying in a local school till the sixth, he was selected in Navodaya Vidyalaya, where he studied till XIIth. After this, he was selected at the Byramji Jeejeebhoy Government Medical College, Pune, where he studied MBBS.
The family members allege that this was because of continued harassment from five seniors. On July 1st, a fortnight after joining college, Bhagwat informed them of being physically and mentally abused by them for his caste and financial background.
“he repeatedly told me that his seniors would physically and mentally harass him up citing our poverty and caste. the management was also aware of this, but would not intervene.”- Brother, Prahlad
Prahlad states that his seniors would repeatedly call him “meritless” and that he could not study properly because he got admission due to reservation. Not only did they misunderstand the purpose of reservation, they falsely assumed that he did avail reservations because of his caste, as his brother denied this. This kind of discrimination is blatantly casteist, and based on the presumption of superiority.
Because of this harassment, Bhagwat also attempted suicide previously on July 24th and was sent back home for a month. After Raksha bandhan, he returned upon the HOD’s request, but the harassment did not cease. The family has filed a complaint against Vikas Dwivedi, Salman Khan, Aman Gautam, Shubham Shinde and Abhishek Game for harassment.
Dr. Arvind Sharma- the warden of the Medical College Hostel and the member of the Anti Ragging Committee of the college- is denying ragging or any type of harassment inside the hostel. Despite being a part of the Ragging Committee, he also stated that as this was beyond his jurisdiction, and instead a matter of their department.
Since October 7th, the family and members of his local community have protested and held candlelight vigils for their son because of police inaction. The police have been investigating the matter for over a week, but no FIR has been charged. The community is accusing them of purposefully trying to postpone the matter. Dilip Dewangan, Bhagwat’s childhood friend, stated that they have started a campaign called “Justice for Bhagwat Dewangan” and will send a 1000 postcards to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.
Medical students & institutional murder
Many people have dubbed this a case of “institutional murder” to point out that this case is not isolated or individualistic, but part of a systematic way in which so-called “lower caste” (Bahujan) students are forced to commit suicide because of continued physical and mental casteist harassment from seniors and the purposeful negligence of the management. Though casteist violence is institutionalised in every university in India, it has become a pandemic in PG medical colleges because of 1. toxic seniority which is easily abused 2. lack of seats, high competition and pressure, because of which savarnas falsely take out their anger on vulnerable bahujan medical students.
The Blue Dawn, a mental health group wrote on the matter:
It only goes to show, that the discourse around caste based reservation is only an excuse to subject DBA students to vile, casteist abuse, to prevent us from entering UC dominated centres of higher education.
— The Blue Dawn (@TheBlueDawn56) October 10, 2020
In 2010, a dalit medical student from AIIMS, Dr. Balmukund Bharti, committed suicide. The administration claimed that he had “fallen into depression”, though they refused to consider that his mental health might have been affected by caste based exclusion. In 2019, Nair College in Mumbai also stated the same after Dr. Payal Tadvi committed suicide and her parents named and filed complaints against her upper caste abusers.
In Dr. Payal Tadvi’s case, there was even great pressure put on the police and Government by protestors and her family. But the case was not taken forward, and on October 8th, the accused were allowed to return to the. In other cases of violence against bahujans by savarna aggressors- as in the rape and murder of a dalit woman in Hathras- the police and state don’t take action and instead try to protect their savarna aggressors.
In each case, the same cycle seems to continue: bahujan students become depressed because of harassment by savarna seniors, authorities are either negligent or support the aggressors and when they feel compelled to kill themselves, the authorities blame mental health to avoid accountability.