Two Deaths, A Culture of Silence and Some Uncomfortable Questions.
While chaos has ensued over the doctors’ strike all over India in the last few days, India has also lost doctors to suicide in the last few months. The most prominent of the names are Dr. Payal Tadvi and Dr. Omkar. The case of Dr. Payal made the news because it exposed the casteism that continues to work in a parallel covertness in the Indian society today. I got to know about the story of Dr. Omkar because he was studying at PGIMS, Rohtak, the same college I first studied MBBS in, in 2015.
We have lost two doctors who could have saved innumerable lives. We lost two people who had a family, friends and people who loved them. We lost two people because silence to harassment is the ultimate truth of medical colleges.
I want to address this article to two sub-groups of people. Those studying to be doctors right now-whether in undergraduate programs or postgraduate and those in charge of the administration of these colleges.
I belong from a family of doctors. I was studying for 2 years to be a doctor myself and if things had been different, I probably would have been a doctor today. It is no surprise then that I know many budding doctors and my family knows some people in charge of running medical colleges. This is an article for them.
The questions I ask may be uncomfortable but they demand introspection from your side to ensure that these tragedies don’t happen again. That is with the assumption that you genuinely don’t want these tragedies to happen again.
To Those Studying To Be Doctors
Both the people who lost their lives to suicide were in the PG program. Their colleagues soon banded together after the news of their death broke. The doctors in Rohtak went on a strike to demand the removal of the HOD who was the major factor that pushed Dr. Omkar to suicide with her constant mistreatment. The HOD didn’t let him go home for his sister’s wedding even though all the shifts had been arranged. This was the final straw for him after 2 years of ragging.
My question is why did it take a death for everyone to stand up together? Did the people not know earlier what was going on before?
Dr. Payal was being harassed by three seniors who taunted her with derogatory slurs and didn’t let her participate in operational procedures. Again, did no one know about this?
Why is it that we need someone to die before we can start standing up to being treated unfairly?
If you attend classes regularly, I am sure you must have scene at least one incidence of someone being shouted at for not having the right posture in the class. I remember students used to be thrown out of the dissection room in Rohtak if they didn’t have their shoes polished. If that’s not enough, the seniors consider themselves gods. You MUST respect them and if you don’t you will be forced to.
Respect is forced.
Will you do something if you see something like this happen to your friend? Will you stand up for them if they are too scared to? Or will you just try and ignore them and live a life in fear?
Does there need to be a dead body before you can act? Or is it the comfort of inaction, ignorance and subordination that makes you feel better?
To The Administrators
Dr. Payal’s mother had written to the Dean requesting assistance in dealing with those harassing her. PGI Rohtak had conducted a panel discussion on depression just two years back in order to encourage students to speak about the stress they have in life and seek help.
If you run a medical college, what do you do when a student comes to you to complain about mistreatment by seniors? It is important that you understand that a student approaches the authorities only when their own limit of tolerance has been crossed, not when it happens for the first time.
Administrations mostly choose to ignore these complaints. ‘That is how it has been and that is how it is.’ Again, it is if they need to see a dead body before they can go in a mode of introspection to try and change something.
I am sure they know which teachers are notorious for tormenting students. It is just that it is not that big a problem. Not until someone dies that is. For how long will the problems of the students be ignored? Yes, there is an anti-ragging board in almost every college today but what do we do when the teachers rag us?
What do you plan on doing about the institutionalized ragging in various medical colleges?
If you feel that you don’t want to get into the trouble with seniors by complaining or that you don’t want to upset your colleagues then that is fine. It is your choice. But don’t be surprised when it leads to someone being troubled to the point that they see dying as the only way out. Dr. Payal and Omkar died because those who knew something was wrong just didn’t want to do anything about it. Now protests have began but their lives could have been saved if voices had been raised earlier.
You can protest as much as you want. You can get one HOD removed but if you don’t act at the right time and the culture remains the same, these things will continue.
You will protest against the circumstances that led to a suicide. The protest will die down slowly. Things will go back to how they were. Few months later, there will be another message on your Whatsapp group. ‘Dr. XXXXX hanged himself in his room.’ And once again you will wonder…
How this could ever have happened?