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| @ | June 3,2019

WHEN I read about Dr Payal Tadavi’s suicide on May 22, 2019, I was distraught. I got more agitated as details started coming in about how she was denigrated and tortured constantly by the three accused senior doctors. This incident bared open the stigmatisation of caste-based reservations in admissions and the impunity with which students are harassed based on their caste. This was not the first time a student died because of caste. When Rohith Vemula was institutionally murdered, I was angry at the injustice of the system and sad to see apathy in our society. However, Payal’s case really put things in perspective, as the main accused here are not some board members but her fellow students. And, the casteist and anti-reservation rhetoric they are accused of using are painfully familiar as I used to assert the same things when I was a student.

As a Hindu, Brahmin, I was admitted to an engineering diploma college through the general category. The admission rounds were long and agonising like they always are but like my family and friends, I blamed it all on caste-based reservations. Since then for years I nursed my grievances against reservations. This hate would rear its ugly head through righteous anger directed at the stupidity of the system for denying a place to talented general category students or through jokes about getting converted to a scheduled caste for reservation or through a sincere apprehension about the future of the country being run by undeserving reserved caste people.

A disparaging comment like, “You don’t need to worry about future, you have reservation.” was so normalised that, I didn’t even care about saying things like that. My friends who belonged to reserved castes may have been hurt by my statements but I was never admonished for any of it. The stigmatisation of reservations is so pervasive that even some teachers were no exception to it. I remember, Prof Kamble a very good, inspiring teacher was constantly openly defied by students. Another Prof Kamble was made fun of the way he talked. While students’ obstinacy, in general, is a factor, no other teachers were disobeyed and insulted so blatantly. At that point, it seemed like an unbiased assessment of teachers, but today, reflecting back, the ridiculed teachers were largely those from reserved castes.

This overt assertion about inherent self-worth and indifference for Bahujan classes has deep roots. I grew up in Savarna area of town, among Savarna families and friends, with deliberately minimum exposure to people from other castes e.g. from the time I remember to the time I stepped out of the town for college, my friends were, myriad of Kulkarnis, Devals, Datyes, Wataves, Joshis, Kavathekars, Ashtekars, etc.… (a lot of surnames that end with kar). There were occasional, Salgars, Kambles, Malwades, Swamis, Choures, Shindes, Malis, etc., but I never hung out with them. The reasons were very obvious, none of the kids in the latter group were reckoned as popular, clever or fun. Some of them were even notoriously known for their uncouth, boorish behaviour. At the same time, a false sense of pride festered in me due to the deification of Savarna customs by teachers, parents, elders and popular culture.

Dominant among them was the influence of RSS shakha on me, which glorified the Hindu past so much that it obscured the monstrous caste system on which it was built. I, like many others, was purposefully kept unaware of caste history and realities until I was completely blind to it. Realizing that caste-based reservation helps bring equity to an inherently unequal, unjust society was my turning point. I can’t say I am completely aware of the extent of my folly.

However, keeping quiet is no longer an option. There are countless students, teachers, employees who are subjected to the same deprecating treatment as Dr Payal. I believe, acknowledging, that people like me have demonised caste-based reservation and have inadvertently contributed to the institutional murders of Rohith Vemula and Dr Payal Tadavi would help to stop many more of such horrendous incidents.

 

 

I did too….

 

They reduced,

her intelligence, integrity,

her right to exist,

to her birth.

I did too….

 

When she got,

her foot in the door,

they cringed and crimped,

and lamented,

the murder of merit.

I did too…..

 

They said to her,

“Casteism, untouchability,

things of past these are,

we value merit now.

By the way,

which only we have.”

I did too….

 

They said,

very righteously,

“Reservation “given” to her,

will devour the society,

and kill the nation.

Let’s leave then,

there is nothing here for us.”

I did too….

 

They said to her,

“Your birth is lucky,

it got you a place,

“reserved” in our society,

wish we had the privilege,

same as you.”

I did too….

 

In casual jokes,

every day they,

denigrated, disparaged, defamed,

her very identity.

I did too….

 

Some of them,

might have felt her pain,

might even have choked up,

with compassion,

but they kept quiet,

befitting their sophistication.

I did too….

 

With their noble taunts,

righteous torture

kind-hearted apathy,

and not at all casteist oppression,

they murdered her,

and I did too….

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