The Vardhaman Mahavir Medical College is considered one of the best medical colleges in India. It is located in the national capital and its teaching hospital is the well-known Safdarjung Hospital. From all accounts, it’s also a place that needs to completely overhaul its prejudices. Twenty-five students of the college, all belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/STs), have had to move the Delhi High Court in sheer frustration, having repeatedly failed exams because of alleged discrimination. Teachers don’t seem to take the students’ grievances seriously: one teacher told Bhalchandra Mungekar, ex-Planning Commission member and MP, who headed a commission of inquiry into the complaints, that some failures were because of “typographical mistakes”. Attitudes are unlikely to change soon. “The authorities mock us as ‘court batch’ students,” says Dr Manish, one of those who filed the case. “We continue to face a hostile atmosphere in college.”
Mungekar’s report to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, finalised after a series of meetings between the aggrieved students and the college authorities, held between February and June this year, gives an account of the troubles these students were put through. “Most of the active energy of these students is diverted and wasted in fighting such injustice,” says the report, a copy of which is with Outlook. “It leaves them frustrated, sometimes compelling them to give up studies midway. Occasionally, it even forces them to end their life.”
The report of the Bhalchandra Mungekar (above) finds fault with the principal and other faculty members of VMMC.
The report focused on one college, but the bias probably exists in most colleges across India; what is shocking, though, is its existence in premier institutions offering professional courses such as those in medicine, engineering, business management, law and so on. In March, Anil Kumar Meena, an ST student of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)—just a few minutes’ walk from Vardhaman Medical College—had committed suicide. Inability to cope with English, and also with how SC/ST students were looked upon by teachers and fellow students, was blamed. Tragic examples of this sort are not hard to find in colleges across the country.
The Mungekar report, though, was prompted by what one set of SC/ST students went through at one college. It’s a harrowing ordeal. Of the 35 SC/ST students admitted to the 2004-09 MBBS batch at Vardhaman Medical College, 25 hadn’t cleared the physiology exam even by July 2010, having failed repeatedly. Physiology is a pre-clinical subject, normally cleared in two semesters in the first one-and-a-half years of admission to the course. These students took a supplementary exam in October 2010—and again failed to clear it, despite having passed in other subjects. Failure in the October 2010 test meant they lost another year. The report says SC/ST students made between four and 13 attempts at passing physiology; eight failed despite 4-9 attempts and left the course; 24 have not yet passed despite 2-8 attempts. In contrast, not one general category student failed the physiology exams held in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In the same years, 15, 14 and 25 SC/ST students failed in the subject.
The students had written to the vice-chancellor of the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, to which the college is affiliated. They had also approached the college authorities, and finding their supplications ignored, used the Right to Information Act (RTI) to find out why they’d failed repeatedly. “All this points to discrimination by design against these students,” says Mungekar, who has also recommended that the students be paid `10 lakh each in compensation for the discrimination they had been made to suffer.
“It must be emphasised that the hostility of the college authorities towards SC/ST students is found to be so strong that the latter always had to approach the information commission with applications under RTI,” says the report. The report also wants Dr Shobha Das, the director, professor and head of the department of physiology, suspended under the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1978. Das was the one who put forth the “typographical mistake” explanation.
The commission was shocked at the casual manner adopted by the college authorities. An RTI application revealed that one student, Rajeev Kumar Meena of the 2007 batch, had obtained seven marks for the theory part and 11 for the practicals in the July 2010 exam. But the results said he’d scored six and eight marks respectively. He was failed. Das, the physiology department head, claims to have tried to have the error rectified but the college had already declared the results so it was in vain. No action was taken against Das for the mistake either.
The students had nowhere to go. The college does have a liaison officer to look specifically into the grievances of SC/ST students, but he didn’t care to record their complaints. The report notes that the principal, Dr V.K. Sharma, wasn’t even aware there was such a liaison officer. Sharma himself proved to be of little help; it was when he failed to address the students’ grievances that they approached the court, which ordered the college to allow the failed students to attend class. The college authorities brazenly ignored the order for a year till the students’ counsel reminded them.
The court’s observation is telling: “We’ll be failing in our duty if we do not deal with the submissions of the students, who belong to a different stratum of society, and are facing a hostile atmosphere because they have approached us...” Later, on a court order dated July 8, 2011, the students took a supplementary exam in physiology, conducted by the Army College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, under close supervision of the court and in a supportive atmosphere. Many of the students who had been failing in physiology since 2004 passed this time. The ending was not so happy, actually—for in addition to all the extra-curricular efforts they had to take to fight the discrimination, it must be remembered that the students ended up having to attend classes with a fresh batch, losing a year anyway.
As Mungekar observed, “The casual manner in which the college authorities treated this matter not only shows indifference but also the contempt they have for SC/ST students.” Some of the students, it must be noted here, were even forced to drop out in the face of such behaviour. Sadly, the Mungekar committee’s findings about prejudices against SC/ST students—and a lack of willingness to address special needs any group might have—could well apply to many colleges across the country. However high they may stand in the rankings.
The article The Drona Syndrome (Oct 29) focusing on caste discrimination in our medical schools is yet another example of the sick society India actually is. The college authorities named are the usual suspects. If India wasn’t a banana republic, these people would have been behind bars.
Manish Chandra, on e-mail
When such discrimination exists in a medical college in the capital, it’s easy to imagine what the state of affairs would be in colleges across the country. It also shows how bogus the merit argument used against SC/ST students is.
Bharat Paul, San Francisco, US
Aren’t medical exam answer sheets a guarantee of anonymity? How can one make out a student’s caste or religion from the roll number? Or is the author saying that the exams are conducted properly, but the teaching in the college is discriminatory? Again, how is that possible when classes are conducted jointly for everyone?
Rajesh Chary, Mumbai
Such problems are because people have forgotten that others are as human as they are. These are the sort of people who would faithfully keep puja vratas, while mistreating those different to them. They are non-humans.
C. Kirpal, New Delhi
The story on SC/ST medical students having to take recourse to a Delhi High Court order to pass exams (The Drona Syndrome, Oct 29) draws hasty conclusions based on a report by Balchandra Mungekar. It appears from the report that these students were victimised and deserved to pass. While many SC/ST students are indeed victims of bias, objectively they can equally be underdeveloped as students. In an instance in Agra Medical College, students admitted on reserved seats failed to pass exams and promptly accused faculty of bias. The directorate of medical education gave them a second chance and held a special exam. Again, none passed. The students again raised a furore. The UP government asked the director of medical education to start an inquiry. While checking the exam sheets during the inquiry, the director was shocked to find that many students had just left the sheets blank or copied the questions. Then the students explained their real difficulty—they didn’t understand any English! I feel there is a need to look at the possibility of teaching medicine, engineering etc in Indian languages. Reservations alone is not enough: you need enabling systems to complement it. Or you’ll have subpar docs.
.in an open forum like this, do you want me shy away from saying things considered politically incorrect? -Sandilya
.in an open forum like this, do you want me shy away from saying things considered politically incorrect? -Sandilya
Your statement is political and incorrect. Do you know of something called self fulfilling prophesy? Do you know why people fight against prejudice? It is difficult to succeed when others expect you to fail. Similarly it is difficult to fail when you are expected to succeed. Even a horse can do maths if expected to! Google Clever Hans Phenomenon and see. Also even placebos often work when the patient or the doctor think that they are giving/taking medicine. That is why they have double blind tests for studying efficacy of medicines. I know of a couple of families with handicapped children and with what love and care they try to make them independent.
@@ FEDUP INDIAN
I am not saying that everything that our elders said was right. What I said was for that context only..
You are right and I agree we are a nation of irrational people with very little courage of conviction.You are also right when you said about the scientific temperament of our populace, which is abysmal.
But what I said was from my long years of personal experience and I once again say, I am open to correction and eagerly waiting for some handicapped guy prove me wrong in holding that view.
In thirty long years it has not happened and it is unlikely too in future. Handicapped have an attitudinal problem.
Have an open mind friend..in an open forum like this, do you want me shy away from saying things considered politically incorrect? This is a big disease that has caught us all and some one should be able to say the king has no clothes..
Before independence,if anyone plugged in any of the university exams in MBBS (from 1st to the final year), even after the same was cleared, the candidate was entitled to the award of only LMS diploma and not MBBS degree!!
In 1923, among a batch of 32 students,only two got MBBS from Vizag medical college!! This draconian rule prevailed till early 1940s I understand, and later that rule was repealed retrospectively paving way for all those with LMS claim MBBS.Similarly passing first time the PG exam in MD medicine used to be a rare exception and failure the rule. That made the candidates prepare well and learn the hard way before exams lest you would never clear.
Any one would agree that doctors of the sixties and seventies surely had an edifice of character and calibre more or less uniformly. An MBBS could be trusted automatically like one trusts a Benz . Alas, with production line assembly of half baked doctors in droves,the norm now is second and even third opinion before patients accept treatment.
In the USA, quite a few doctors doing PG residency in surgery get dropped out for want of required calibre expected of the candidates. In our country, it is not unusual for some candidates to sit 5-10 arrear exams before they get the degree to practice.And even this is not their efforts but the medical teachers having got fed up of them some how want to get these guys out of their sight.
Caste politics in the medical colleges have spoiled the academic atmosphere. When it is the brain that is needed, people find excuses in everything except the candidate's efforts. I am not a Brahmin but I can safely say, it all started with hounding of Brahmin teachers, and a wedge has been driven with this sort of caste politics such that no one wants trouble and that led to things to rot and reach the present level. AIIMS used to be an island in a sea of mediocrity and Dr Anbumani Ramadoss deserves all our praise to make this great institution a cauldron of politics and mediocrity.
Nothing is more unequal than treating unequals as equals.
Aren't medical exams conducted by the university - where the answer sheets are anonymous i.e. looking at the roll number one cant make out which caste/religion the student belongs to? Or is the author saying the exams are conducted correctly, but the teaching in the college is sub standard/discriminatory towards SC/ST? Again, how is that possible when classes are conducted jointly for everyone? The article is poorly written and does not bring any evidence to light.
"After all stooping Manthara was the key to Ramayan and no wonder our elders used to say ," Beware of the lame"." Sandilya
Our elders also used to say "When a woman has her period, she is polluted and she should isolate herself from others."
Our elders also used to say "Sudras are untouchable and even their shadow pollutes upper caste Hindus."
Our elders also used to say "A widow who burns herself on the funeral pyre of her husband will achieve moksha."
Our elders were a bunch of primitive, superstitious peasants who did not have access to modern science, medicine, and technology.
From your remarks about handicapped people, it is clear that Indians today are very different from our elders - we are a bunch of primitive, superstitious peasants who have access to modern science, medicine and technology.
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