Dalit Students Suicide - The Hindu

In Dalit student suicides, the death of merit

By Vidya Subrahmaniam

New Delhi, May 8, 2011


He killed himself in his college library, unable to bear the insults and taunts. The suicide note recovered from his coat pocket charged his Head of the Department (HOD) with deliberately failing him and threatening to fail him over and over. Seven months later, a three-member group of senior professors re-evaluated his answer sheet and found that he had in fact passed the test.

Medical student Jaspreet Singh, a Dalit by birth, wanted nothing more than to become a doctor. Tragically, he fulfilled his ambition posthumously. A year later, his young sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, also committed suicide, heartbroken at the injustice done to her brother.

Shocking details about the January 2008 suicide of the Chandigarh-based student have emerged following recent investigations by Insight Foundation, a Dalit-Adivasi student group that has compiled a list of 18 suicides by Dalit students studying in reputed institutions of higher education across India in the past four years.

The Foundation has also uploaded two documentaries onto YouTube, titled “The death of merit” — one on Jaspreet and the other on Bal Mukund, a Dalit student from Uttar Pradesh, who studied at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and committed suicide in March 2010.

Jaspreet was in the final year at the Government Medical College in Chandigarh. He was an excellent student throughout, and had never failed in any subject until he reached the fifth and final year.

Beginning of ordeal

This is when his ordeal began. His HOD told him that he might have entered medical college using his Scheduled Caste certificate but he would not go out with a degree. The professor failed him in Community Medicine, a crucial subject, and told him, according to the suicide note, that he will not let him pass.

Jaspreet had set his heart on a MD degree from the prestigious Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. The threat cut short that dream.

Jaspreet's father, Charan Singh, told The Hindu: “I have no reason to live anymore. What more evidence do they want?”

Indeed, the evidence is clinching in this case. Jaspreet's suicide note; a certificate affirming Jaspreet's handwriting from the Directorate of Forensic Science, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shimla; testimonies from Jaspreet's friends; and finally, the re-evaluation of the answer sheet by a three member body of doctors from PGI, Chandigarh.

All three doctors, Rajesh Kumar, Amarjeet Singh and Arun Kumar Aggrawal, specialised in Community Medicine – the subject in which Jaspreet was failed. Yet till date, no action has been taken against the guilty HOD or the college.

In Bal Mukund's case, the AIIMS authorities seized on the fact that there was no suicide note. Their version was that Bal Mukund, who had attempted suicide once earlier, killed himself in depression.

But Bal Mukund's parents plaintively ask: “Who and what drove him to depression? He had repeatedly told us that he was harassed because of his caste. He was about to change his name. He also wanted to settle abroad to escape the humiliation of being born a Dalit.

The Death of Upper Caste Merit

Thu, May. 05 2011 03:05 PM EDT

Prejudice in India's Top Colleges Leading to Dalit Suicides

By Anugrah Kumar|Christian Post Contributor


Dalits, comprising the lowest rung of India’s highly stratified society, can hardly reach professional colleges and the few who do are often harassed by “upper caste” professors and peers, a quandary that has forced many of them to either quit or commit suicide, as one activist has shown with a list of Dalit suicides.

Anoop Kumar, a Dalit advocate based in New Delhi, has documented at least 18 cases of Dalit students committing suicide due to caste-based discrimination in higher educational institutions since 2007. The actual number was much higher as more cases were being brought to notice following this month’s release of the list, Kumar told The Christian Post.

These Dalit suicides were reported from India’s premier professional colleges, including the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and Kanpur, the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bengaluru, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi.

Kumar’s list accompanies an amateur documentary film, “The Death of Merit,” also produced by his group, Insight Foundation, which runs Dalit and Adivasi (Tribal) Students’ Portal. The film is based on testimonies by the family of a Dalit student, Bal Mukund Bharti, who committed suicide on March 3, 2010. Bharti was in the final year of MBBS.

The principal of the institute had allegedly told Bharti that he could never become a doctor even if he worked hard. “No one from our village had ever gone to a medical college in 50 years,” Bharti’s father said, sitting on the floor of his thatched house in a small village in the north Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Kumar said neither the police nor the management of AIIMS took the allegation seriously and blamed the suicide on “personal reasons” without an investigation.

There is a “well-entrenched social mechanism” in Indian society to keep Dalits “distanced and demoralized,” said Dr. Ashish Alexander, editor at FORWARD Press, a bilingual, monthly magazine that speaks for marginalized people comprising Dalits, tribals and other backward communities.

“When a bright young student from the Dalit community makes it to an elite institution, against all odds, that mechanism only becomes more relentless, because the faultlines are now more sharply defined,” Alexander told The Christian Post.

An “upper-caste” student, he added, has to spend much more time with the Dalit student – in classroom, in laboratory, in hostel mess – “while prior to joining the institution, he or she could have easily avoided the Dalit counterpart. So the ancient prejudices are now resurfacing with a vengeance.”

Alexander was referring to mandatory reservation of seats for Dalit students in government-run or -aided educational institutions which forces upper caste students to sit with Dalits.

After India’s independence from British rule and following mass movement against the caste system led by activists and reformers such as Jyotirao Phule and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the country’s Constitution provided for a Dalit quota in government jobs, parliament and state assemblies, and educational institutions, as well as some other benefits for their upward mobility.

But over 60 years later, little has changed in social attitudes, activists say.

Formerly known as “untouchables,” Dalits have remained the poorest of the poor for over two millennia in India and some other South Asian nations.

It is believed that the caste system is sanctioned by one of the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Manusmriti.

According to the book, a perfect society should have four irreversibly hierarchical classes with the Brahmins (priests) at the top, the Kshatriyas (warriors) and the Vaishyas (traders) in the middle, and the Shudras (laborers) at the bottom. It says supreme creator Brahma gave birth to the Brahmins from his mouth, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. And a fifth category was also deemed as existing, of those who were not considered worthy of any of the four categories. They were called the “untouchables.”

Of the more than 1.2 billion people in India, around 167 million (16 percent) are Dalit, according to the 2001 Census. It is estimated that around 50 percent of the population is Shudra, many of who are also seen as Dalits or lower castes.

Local newspapers routinely report on caste-based discrimination and atrocities, including rape, killings, violent attacks and expulsion from villages, from across the country.

Over the years, the caste system also spread through sections of other religious communities, including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.

Kumar said while professional colleges were giving admissions to Dalit students under the quota, they were unable to provide them the assistance and support they need because of their unique background.

It’s not about the capability of Dalit students, Kumar stressed, saying it was a myth that the Dalits could not compete with others if given an opportunity. He added that it was a common, but false, notion that caste-based prejudice and atrocities existed only in rural parts of the country.

“In almost all the cases we documented, the students committing suicide were toppers when at school. They committed suicide at the far-end of their courses which shows they were not weak or escapists. Each of them struggled, tried everything possible to cope up with the hostilities they faced but ultimately realized that the system was too strong for them to take on and that they were alone,” Kumar said.

To fight the discrimination, the Dalit community should develop a support system for their students, “for example, formation of a Dalit students alumni,” Kumar proposed. “We are also seeking severe punishment for those who are found guilty [of discrimination]. I have yet to come across a case where a faculty member or student was punished or penalized for this.”

Kumar, who had to drop out of his college in 2001 due to discrimination, recently started a Dalit and Tribal Students’ Helpline, which receives around a dozen calls every day.

Alexander agreed with Kumar. “The question is not about merit. There are unspoken rules. The upper castes think they alone have the right to enter these premier institutions. It’s taken for granted that these belong to them. What is rather shocking is that in many cases, the ‘meritorious’ Dalit students who could have entered these institutions without needing any reservation also bear the brunt.”

Gendercide in India

In India the close connection between caste, marriage, property, status and dowry has led to another modern horrifying phenomena known as the 'gendercide'.

The ground zero of India's 'gendercide'

Sex-selective abortions are on the increase, despite having been banned 20 years ago

By Andrew Buncombe in Jhajjar

Friday, 15 April 201


At the nursery school established by Usha Gehlot in the Indian town of Jhajjar, there are toys, books, brightly-painted walls, and very few little girls. "In last year's intake, of a total of 59 pupils, 43 were boys," said the headteacher, running a pen down a column in the handwritten register book. "We feel in our classes that we have more boys than girls. We feel sad about it. It's part of the culture."

Jhajjar is the frontline of what some have termed India's "gendercide", a preference for sons and an attendant offensive against daughters that has led to a sharply skewed gender imbalance. Preliminary results from a new census have found that for every 1,000 young boys in India, there are just 914 young girls. In Jhajjar – which has the worst record – the number is just 774.

The reasons for the gender imbalance in India and elsewhere in south Asia are complex and historic. Many patriarchal communities traditionally prefer sons because they will inherit a family's wealth without it being "married" into another family, because it is believed they will better care for elderly parents and because a family will earn a dowry upon a son's marriage, rather than having to pay one out for a daughter's. This has led to widespread sex-selective abortion – officially banned two decades ago – which has increased as ultrasound machines have become cheaper and more ubiquitous. Nowadays a test can be had for less than £150.

What is particularly disturbing for campaigners is that the gender imbalance appears to be worst in some of India's most prosperous states, undermining claims that education and economic prosperity are determining factors. Worse still, the census suggests the situation has got worse rather than better in the past 10 years. "It's extremely alarming and everybody should be worried," said Girija Vyas, head of India's National Commission for Women.

Jhajjar, which serves as a dusty hub for surrounding farms and villages, is situated barely 40 miles from Delhi and its satellite Gurgaon, the so-called Millennium City that has become known for its call centres and international companies housed in tall, glass-fronted offices. On the way, broken roads pass through recently harvested wheat fields and the smoking chimneys of rudimentary brick factories. It was here that Mrs Gehlot set up her Kidz nursery school several years ago, inspired by the fact that she could find nowhere suitable for her son. She quickly came face-to-face with the area's sharp gender imbalance. "In that first batch I had four boys and one girl. The boys would try to push her and she complained to her parents that she did not want to come," she said. "I think such a situation makes the girls more aggressive."

Activists say India's skewed population is storing up a series of social problems for the future. Sexual assaults, crime and the role of women in society will all be issues that have to be addressed. But for the people of Jhajjar and other communities where men outnumber women, there is already a pressing practical problem – a shortage of brides.

At a tea shop on the edge of town, locals told how many young men were unable to marry or else had to pay for brides illegally trafficked from other states. Many come from the south of India or else the eastern state of Bihar. Among the customers was Kishore Saini, a councillor who happened to send his two children – both boys – to Mrs Gehlot's school.

Asked to list the main problems confronting Jhajjar, the councillor, a member of India's ruling Congress Party, quickly reeled off sewage, potable water and employment. Asked if the gender imbalance was an issue, he replied: "I don't think it's a big social problem... Before, people were having four or five children. Now they have just one or two and they want to make sure it's a boy."

The state police say they are doing what they can to confront those who break a 1994 law that prohibits the use of ultrasound machines to determine a foetus's gender. Inspector Ajmer Singh said the gender imbalance was a "really worrisome issue". Every week he dispatches female constables undercover to maternity clinics to try and discover if any are offering sex determination tests or abortion. In a society with fewer women, men would behave "worse than animals", he added.

However, during the past 12 months no evidence has been found and no charges filed. Inspector Singh was unable to provide the names of clinics that had been investigated and said he believed any ultrasound tests or abortions were being performed outside of his district. "I don't think that it's happening here," he added.

Such a claim appears questionable. Almost everyone in Jhajjar says they know about the use of ultrasound testing and selective abortion, and some say relatives have aborted female foetuses. In a few minutes, locals offered up the names of several clinics said to offer such services.

At the first, The Independent's female translator, posing as a pregnant woman seeking an abortion, was directed to a second clinic where she was told she would be dealt with. There, her mobile phone was examined in case it was recording the conversation, and she was told by a doctor's assistant: "Why have you come here? You will get us both in jail."

Later, the assistant, Hema Lata, shook with nerves as she insisted that no abortions were performed there. "The situation is really strict now. I am so scared about all of this," she said. Local officials say they are trying to address the issue. The education department puts on plays and street theatre to try to highlight the benefits of healthy, well-educated daughters. Bharat Singh, the district's chief medical officer, said he had recommended several initiatives to counter the use of ultrasound machines for sex determination, including a ban on mobile clinics. Yet one of Mr Singh's claims about a purported local genetic disposition for baby boys would raise the eyebrows of most experts.

"In the south of the state where there are Jats and Rajput [caste communities]. people are martial and the possibility for male children is stronger," he claimed.

The Indian government says the census that shows worst gender gap since independence in 1947 is of pressing concern and the Home Secretary, Gopal Pillai, has called for a "complete review" of the current policies designed to deal with the imbalance. Yet many campaigners question the willingness of politicians to address the issue.

Just this week, a federal minister, Farooq Abdullah, attempted to make light of the matter when he told a forum: "The day is not far when there will be no girls to marry and we'll all become gays. That might happen."

Mrs Gehlot, who said she pushes her girl pupils to be the best in her classes, is not the only person in Jhajjar who is standing up for the rights of young women.

At a junction close to the entrance of town, Parmood Dhankhad had just seen his daughter off to school. His grandfather had owned 20 acres but that land had been split when it was divided, first to his sons and then his grandsons. Mr Dhankhad, 42, said he expected to end up with just 1.5 acres – "not enough".

His 11-year-old daughter was his only child, he said, and he had brought her up alone after his wife's death. Each month he spent around a quarter of his income sending her to a private school, albeit not Mrs Gehlot's. "Every parent wants to give the best to their child," he said. "We never discussed the gender, it was whatever God sent."

39,000 Dalit Adivasi Atrocities in 2008

Nearly 39,000 offences against SC/ST (Dalits and Adivasis) in 2008 in India


Nearly 39,000 police cases under the (Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes) SC/ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act were registered all over the country in 2008, with the maximum of 7,969 offences registered in Uttar Pradesh, Parliament was informed today.

Tabling the 2008 annual report on Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe (PoA) Act in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment D Napoleon said 38,943 cases were registered in 2008 as compared to 35,352 the previous year.

He said that of the 79.4 per cent cases of atrocities pending in various courts, the conviction rate was 31.4 per cent.

Fifty three per cent of the cases relating to SCs figured in charge sheets in courts during 2008 and 21.5 per cent cases were closed after investigations. Likewise, 57 per cent of the cases related to STs were named in the charge sheets in this period and 17 per cent cases were closed after probe, the report said.

The report said that while Uttar Pradesh accounted for the maximum cases against SC, with 7,960 cases, Madhya Pradesh had registered the maximum cases against ST with 1,071 offences.

While tabling the report, Napoleon cited reasons for the delay in laying the annual report for 2008 and said certain state governments were slow in giving their reports to the ministry.

Napoleon also said the National Crime Records Bureau had furnished the data for 2008 only in February 2010, adding to the delay.

Manmohan Singh imposes gag on India’s poverty data


Manmohan Singh imposes gag on India’s poverty data

3 February circular to ministries asks them to check with Planning Commission first

Iftikhar Gilani

New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has imposed a gag on India’s poverty data, saying no information must go out until it is vetted by the Planning Commission.

The gag order applies to all central ministries and departments and is apparently triggered by the embarrassment over multiple data on Indians falling under the socially damning Below Poverty Line (BPL).

The official line is that the government wants to have uniformity on all data and thus the need to centralise information flow.

Issued by Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar on 3 February, the circular says: “It has been observed that some ministries/departments are undertaking surveys on certain sectors relating to their charge and also generating/disseminating data on the same.

“Such data sometimes differ from the data/estimates available in surveys undertaken by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) under the M/o (Ministry of) Statistics and Programme Implementation. You would agree that creating multiple official estimates of the same underlying variables is not advisable.”

MS Gill is currently the Cabinet Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Chandrasekhar’s circular says the ministries must ‘ensure strict compliance’ of the instructions.

The circular adds, “With a view to avoiding duplication of efforts and ensuring consistency between different sets of data and also to ensure reliability of data, it has been decided with the approval of the Prime Minister, that all steps should be taken to avoid duplication of effort and multiplicity of official data/estimates of the same underlying variables.”

The worst recent case of data causing embarrassment to the government was on the poverty estimates. The Arjun Sengupta committee, the National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganised Sector, said 77 percent Indians were living on Rs 20 a day.

The NC Saxena committee said 50 percent of India is poor. The World Bank said 41.6 percent. And then, the Suresh Tendulkar committee, which gave its report to the Planning Commission, said 25.7 percent Indians were poor. This is the Planning Commission estimate as well.

This has not been reconciled as yet, and such confusion affects government delivery systems.

Therefore, says Chandrasekar’s circular, “Where the ministries/departments still wish to collect data pertaining to aspects for which there are already official estimates prepared by the M/o Statistics and Programme Implementation, the reasons for collecting such data need to be stated clearly and the two efforts should be coordinated.

‘Further, any such data should be produced only with appropriate technical oversight, preferably by the National Statistical Commission. Also, the ministries/departments should invariably consult the Planning Commission before publishing any statistical data relating to the economic status of the population, section of the population or any other sector.

“As and when such data is published, there should be sufficient explanation for differences, if any, with the already available official data.”

In essence, the Prime Minister wants to sanitise data. This could trigger another controversy because poverty figures in India are the core of all government social programmes. Poverty alleviation is considered the default core duty of any elected government in India, given the widespread social deprivation among its citizens.