A few weeks back, Bhagwat Devangan an OBC student died by suicide at Shubhas Chandra Bose Medical College, Madhya Pradesh. Like, other unimportant news, this news also disappeared from the media and unlike death of Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, social media did not witness any hashtag on the death of a OBC student. Do we really think that death of Bhagwat Devangan is just a case of suicide?
In our country when a student commits suicide, people start making general perceptions that he/she must be disturbed by his/her low marks, he/she must have some love angle. But, a few cares about that there should be some caste angle, every suicide cannot be case of suicide it can be also a case of institutional murder.
According to a report of Forward Press (13 October, 2020), the student was disturbed by his seniors who used to make casteist comments on him. Bhagwat’s Brother told to Forward Press that he was ragged and mentally tortured by his upper caste’s seniors. Bhagwat was a brilliant student he had qualified Navodaya entrance in childhood and then went to Pune to complete his MBBS degree and for masters he got admission in orthopaedic at Netaji Shubhas Chandra Medical College. He had cleared his exam with good rank and got admission in general category. Still, his seniors used to tease him by calling him quota students. Bhagwat had also complained about casteist discrimination to the Head of the Department but he did not get any affirmative solution.
The interview of Bhagwat’s brother and given all the situations, it is obvious to believe that Bhagwat was mentally tortured and he was ragged because of his caste. The mainstream media had not covered this news, a few local newspapers had covered but many had failed to cover the caste angle.
Why the death of a OBC Student did not become mainstream news?
Unlike the death of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi, the death of a OBC student did not become mainstream news, the death of Bhagwat was simply treated as suicide. First of all, upper caste-class media is more concerned about TRPs they hardly bother about a student’s death. Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi’s cases got media attention because they both belonged to Dalit communities, Dalits of this country had understood their rights in proper way, they had developed medium to assert their voice, they are united by ideologies which is Ambedkarism. We can see the portrait of Ambedkar, Phule in the houses of Dalits but it lacks at backward caste’s houses. Dalit movements intended towards the annihilation of caste on the other side the numerically strong backwards remain in religious fold. Therefore, Dalits of India tried to make a suicide as national issue and many Ambedkarite organisations termed it as institutional murder. As a result, the case was discussed in Parliament and Supreme Court as well. Though, a definite solution is not found yet, still Dalits are able to raise their voices and make it as an visible. Unfortunately, OBCs of this country did not try to make it as a national issue, they did not take the death of Bhagwat’s seriously. A few portals did discuss the issue but unable to get required attention.
The backward castes of this country are scattered, most of the dominant backward castes do not believe that they are exploited by savarnas of this country. Many times, we can see that dominant backward castes are taking sides of savarnas to exploit Dalits and Adivasis. As a result, Dalits and Adivasis considers dominant OBCs as their enemies. Due to this, we can see the absence of Dalits and Adivasis in OBC’s cause.
Condition of OBCs in Indian Campuses
The death of Bhagwat puts a serious question, are OBCs represented well in Indian Universities? It also raises the question on the discrimination of OBC students in educational institutions.
After more than fifty years, the OBCs of this country got reservation in educational institutions. According to the report of The Print (Only 9 OBC professors teaching in Central Universities across India against 313 posts, August 20, 2020). According to this report, only 2.8 per cent of appointments have been made. The fewer numbers of OBC professors means less concern given to OBC students. In various universities, there is hardly representation of OBC professors in interview panels. There is rarely any cell opened for OBC students where they can share their problems.
The OBC seats in the universities remain vacant. Our own education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal has given data in Rajya Sabha that out of 40 central universities, 17 universities are unable to fill all OBC seats and the common reason given by him that not enough students had applied. Mukesh Rajbhar, social worker and research scholar of Banaras Hindu University informed us that in BHU, there are many seats which belong to reserved category (SC, ST, OBC) remain vacant. The popular reason given by the university is that students are ineligible for the course.
Personal experience of OBC students in Indian Universities
A few OBC Students had shared their experiences which make us think about silences on Discrimination with OBC students.
Pushp Raj from JNU told me that being an OBC student when he took admission in a prestigious university, he felt little isolated because of his Hindi-medium background. Pushp Raj further adds that having a backward background, his parents are not educated enough to tell him the importance of prominent universities, the importance of English for higher education. He told me that he had to listen to taunts for pursuing graduate courses in his 20s. He said so many people asked him that are tumko to abhi tak uche class me hona chahie tha, abhi tak graduation hi kar rhe ho? (you should study in higher classes, till now you are pursuing graduation only?) He said that savarana and privileged background students have failed to understand the issue of dropouts among SC, ST and OBCs students. He said that mean taunts like these, mentally affects the marginalised students, which leads them to be in isolation and mental depression.
He also informed me that when people got to know that he belongs to OBC category, students had branded him as quota wala bacha. He further said that the upper caste students had made particular views about his caste, due to which students had made mean notions about him.
Mukesh Rajbhar from BHU told me that there is no reservation for OBC students in Hostels of BHU and same situation we can find out in DU as well. These all prestigious universities are vocal on every issue, but still, this issue remains unnoticed. He said when his teacher got to know about his category, he started doubting on his capabilities and taunted on him that tumlog to reservation le kar yha padhne aa jate ho. (you people come here to study after taking reservation).
I have personally felt such discrimination in two prestigious universities, DU and JNU. During my MA in JNU, I had qualified two MPhil entrances of two prestigious universities DU and HCU, my savarna professor didn’t hesitate to ask me my quota. He said do you have any quota? I said, yes! OBC, then he said that is why you have qualified.
During my MPhil days in DU, I had faced lots of torture because I belong to OBC category, my savarna supervisor was mentally torturing me and when I complained against him, he refused to conduct my pre-viva. He used to taunt on my English on my background without any hesitation.
I went to National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC)to listen to my concern, out of all authorities I have approached, only NCBC was ready to listen my concern and kept sympathy towards my concern. The only place where my problems are heard, and in the hearing session of NCBC, I found I am not the only one who is tortured by savarna professors, I met people who are not getting PhD degree because of their caste, people were ousted from their jobs and are not allowed to do the job in their own category. There is gross violation OBC reservation in educational institutions and government jobs.
These experiences tell us that reservation is treated as a stigma in our society, and stigmatisation is not just limited to SC, ST students it also extended to OBCs as well. On the other hand, the so-called poor savarna also got reservation on EWS quota, but fortunately, they are not labelled as quota wale bache, they do not carry stigma like SC, ST and OBC students.
Firstly, backward communities of this country should understand that they should take reservation as right. Many of the OBCs say that they don’t bother about reservation. Whether if they are getting it or not. The OBCs should leave their careless attitude towards their reservation. They should unite for the proper implementation of reservation in educational institutions and jobs.
Secondly, OBCs should support all the marginalised section regardless of caste and religion. There is a lack of camaraderie between Hindu, Muslim and Christian OBCs.
All the educational institutions should open OBC cells for students to address their grievances.
We see that the grievances committees lack the representation of SC, ST, OBC and minority teachers and professors in their panels. Therefore, their grievances are not truly addressed.
If the grievances of the students are not addressed at the department level, they should consult other authorities. If not, they should definitely consult the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
If they feel mentally tortured, either they should fight for their rights, or they should leave the course but do not end their life.
The marginalised section should raise their voice for their rights. However, upper-caste students and teachers should also bring reform in themselves and leave the narrow mentality towards reservation and casteist mindset otherwise; we will keep losing Bhagwat Devangan, Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, Fateema Lateef.
Ritu, Research Scholar, University of Delhi