The callous response to Dr Payal Tadvi’s suicide last year prompted me to write this piece. It’s an appeal to the medical profession in India to wake up to casteism in their midst before it is too late. The article was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics on 23rd Nov 2020. The full text is available here. Below are some excerpts.
“Social scientists have shown that collectively, our nation has performed very poorly in terms of treating fellow humans as equals. Among the many reasons for that is the centuries-long persistence of caste-based ways of thinking. Students and doctors from privileged castes live in this unequal cultural environment and imbibe the dominant ideas and justifications of inequality – even if these are incorrect – which then, unsurprisingly, spring up during conversations in college canteens, hospital wards, operation theatres etc. Again, as scholars have consistently shown, the inequalities and abuses around us are frequently dealt with through denial and indifference. Thus, while offensive claims about the abilities and intelligence of Dalit and Adivasi students and doctors continue unabated within the medical community, prominent medical bodies and associations are reluctant to acknowledge these facts. For example, the authorities at the Maharashtra Medical Council have deemed it fit to not punish the three individuals who Dr Tadvi specifically mentioned in her final letter as her torturers (their inhumane and unprofessional behaviour was also corroborated by other evidence gathered by the hospital’s anti-ragging committee). At the same time, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) seems to be denying and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of casteism on campuses and strangely maintaining that “there is no caste discrimination in Indian medical field”.
The leaders of the profession in India must know that such denial only leads to explosive situations sooner or later. Doctors already have experienced that, with respect to medical negligence and malpractice. For a long time these serious issues were ignored by professional bodies, often with the bland justification that erring doctors were only a “few black sheep.” But over the past decade, as we are aware, there has been an explosion of the already simmering anti-doctor sentiment in the public, much of it fueled by anger against the medical corruption and malpractice which the profession had ignored for decades. Casteism in medicine might end up on that path if not acknowledged and acted upon urgently.”