‘The Death of Merit’: A Documentary
On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions
Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology (NII), New Delhi, committed suicide in his hostel room on 16 April 2011. He belonged to a Dalit family from Dindori Tehsil in Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh).
Linesh’s suicide is just one more addition in the growing list of Dalit students committing suicides in the country’s educational institutions, especially that of sciences and professional courses in recent times. Most of these institutions are considered to be ‘top class’ and have ‘All India character’.
The number of students committing suicides in Indian campuses is in itself a big cause of worry for our society and points towards lacunae in our higher education system, proving it to be completely feudal and insensitive towards the students to say the least.
However, the disproportionate numbers of Dalit and Adivasi students committing suicides, especially, in premier institutions also points towards the kind of caste discrimination prevalent in these campuses where our students have to face harassment due to their caste background on a regular basis from not only their colleagues but more from the faculties and even from the administration.
Last year, on March 3rd, 2010, another Dalit, Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS student from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi committed suicide. He was from Kundeshwar village from Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh. He was a bright student from a very humble background.
His parents accused AIIMS of caste discrimination that drove their son to commit suicide and demanded a probe. However, the police and the AIIMS administration plainly refused to consider this demand and cited ‘personal reasons’ for suicide without even conducting a preliminary enquiry.
Knowing the history of caste-discrimination in AIIMS our group decided to investigate the matter and went to Balmukund’s home to meet his parents on 1st April 2010.
What came out of our interaction with his parents and other family members was a shocking tale of how a young and bright Dalit student from very poor background was victimized so much on caste grounds in one of the premier educational institutions of the country that despite his entire record of struggle all through his life, he finally lost his willingness to even live.
We recorded the testimonies of Balmukund’s parents and his family members, taking small video clips with a digital still camera.
The Documentary ‘The Death of Merit’ is based on these testimonies and is a result of our amateur efforts to bring out the truth behind the kind of caste oppression suffered by Dalit and Adivasi students in higher education and the resulting suicides of our bright students like Balmukund Bharti.
It also raises a question on the definition of ‘merit’ in the country that is used to denigrate, harass, abuse Dalit and Adivasi students and has become a tool to display caste prejudices openly in Indian campuses both by faculties and other students.
What about the merit of students like Balmukund who defy all socio-economic odds and reach institutions like AIIMS based on their hard labour, determination and will to succeed in life?
Until when will our campuses remain the graveyard of students like Balmukund Bharti, a real meritorious student?