Not just in the hostel, but in college too, they would block his way in the corridor; snatch his mobile; make him get up from where he was sitting; crowd around him in the mess; drag him into their room and threaten to hit him with a belt.
Jyoti Punwani reports.
When he got admission to the Seth G S Medical College, popularly known as KEM after the municipal hospital attached to it, Sugat Padghan, from Hingoli district, was on top of the world. His elder sister had studied dentistry in Hingoli; Sugat wanted to go beyond that.
Three-and-a-half years later, the third-year Bachelors' Student of Occupation Therapy is at war with the college -- forced into a confrontation that has left him with his back to the wall.
Sugat's days are now filled with visits to the police station where Assistant Commissioner of Police Ashwini Patil is conducting an inquiry into his case, and meetings with Dalit groups who have taken up his cause.
These groups are the only ones supporting him; no one in the college administration takes his complaints of having been continuously ragged and also abused for his caste seriously, he alleges.
"Never before have I been subjected to such taunts," says the 24 year old. "Not in school, not in college, though I studied with students from all castes. I never imagined that in a prestigious college like KEM, I would face this. And when it happened, I was sure the faculty would support me."
On both counts, Sugat was to be disillusioned.
According to Sugat, the ragging started soon after he joined college in August 2018.
Sugat shared his hostel room with three others: Amegh Patil, Rameshwar Tangade and Yogesh Shingane. All of them had beds, he wasn't given one. His objections to his room-mates leaving their footwear near his mattress went unheeded, he alleges. Instead, they threatened that they would throw him and his mattress out of the room.
When he once removed his room-mate Yogesh Shingane's dry clothes from the common clothesline to put his up, the latter shouted at him for not folding them and putting them away. When Sugat retorted that he was not his servant, Yogesh allegedly threatened to break his face.
Angered by his protests, says Sugat, his room-mates forced him to sweep the room and wash the utensils in which they ate. His mobile charger was loaned to others and he never got it back.
Amidst all this was the constant taunt: 'You are a Mahar (scheduled caste), why have you come here to study? We don't want you in our room. You should know your aukaat (position).'
When Sugat, whose father is a graduate and mother has studied till Class 12, objected to such behaviour, he was threatened, he says. It was a threat that he would be thrown from the 8th floor that made him return home for a month-and-a-half in January 2019.
Since the ragging continued after he came back, Sugat went home again and sent an e-mail to the authorities, including the dean, academic dean, the head of department as well as the warden of his hostel in April 2019, describing what he had gone through.
A month later, he was asked to come back to college with his father; but when he did, he found no one from the faculty willing to believe him.
On the contrary, Sugat says the warden of the hostel Dr Sunil Kuyare told him that if he continued with his complaints, he would be expelled. He was also informed that since his attendance was low, he could not sit for the upcoming exam.
Sugat's second year didn't turn out any better.
His alleged tormentors were now a year senior to him; they taunted him that his complaints against them had yielded no results. They allegedly roped in his new room-mates to join them in tormenting him, says Sugat.
Not just in the hostel, but in college too, alleges Sugat, they would block his way in the corridor; snatch his mobile; make him get up from where he was sitting; crowd around him in the mess; drag him into their room and threaten to hit him with a belt.
However, the unkindest cut was when they humiliated him in front of patients and tried to stop him treating patients.
This last humiliation is what Dr Payal Tadvi had to undergo too. The resident doctor at the B Y L Nair Hospital -- another hospital in Mumbai run by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation -- belonging to the Bhil tribe, committed suicide in May 2019, after having faced months of casteist abuse. She was then 26, pursuing her MD in gynaecology and obstetrics.
Three of her colleagues were arrested under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act and the 2000 IT Act. They were also charged with abetting her suicide and destroying evidence.
For Sugat, things began changing in December 2021, when his experience was brought to the attention of Dalit activists by a well-wisher. Veteran activists Sumedh Jadhav, Subodh More and others met the KEM dean and academic dean twice.
But with no action being taken by the college, Sugat finally filed a police complaint on December 17, 2021 under the SC/ST Atrocities Act describing what he had gone through.
Helped by Dalit activists, Sugat also met the chairman of the Maharashtra SC/ST Commission. At a hearing of the commission on December 30, the dean and academic dean were asked why Sugat's complaints since 2019 had not been taken seriously, and ordered to conduct an inquiry by an anti-ragging committee.
Since then, two hearings of the anti-ragging committee have been held, with nothing concrete emerging.
On January 14, based on Sugat's complaint, the police filed an FIR against 17 persons, including two faculty members and the hostel warden.
They face charges under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, and Indian Penal Code sections 504 (intentionally insulting) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
"The police are doing nothing," says Subodh More who organised a demonstration of Dalit organisations outside the KEM Hospital on January 18. "They sat on Sugat's complaint for a month, though under the SC/ST Act, no preliminary inquiry is required for registration of an FIR. Nor does the IO (investigating officer) require the approval for arresting any accused."
"On December 30, the SC/ST Commission also told them to file an FIR," adds More, "but they didn't. We feel the concerned policemen should also be made co-accused."
More points out that the college too has not followed UGC rules to prevent ragging.
Dalit organisations are demanding that the former dean and academic dean of KEM, Dr Hemant Deshmukh and Dr Milind Nadkar, also be made co-accused in the case, for having done nothing since 2019 on Sugat's complaints. They also want the hostel warden to be suspended.
WATCH: Sugat Padghan speaks to the media
In December, Sugat was finally allotted a room in a hostel in the main KEM campus, away from the hostels occupied by his classmates.
Sugat admits having contemplated suicide. He visited the college psychiatrist, but couldn't bring himself to tell him why he was feeling suicidal.
Apart from his family, Sugat confided in a few friends, some back home, a few in KEM. "My friends in Aurangabad studying in other medical colleges told me I should change my college; but how can I leave a college like KEM?" he asks.
Two of his KEM friends testified in front of the anti-ragging committee to the effect that he had told them about the bullying.
"I did make friends in KEM, but these students's bullying has left me isolated in class," says Sugat. It is significant that no student from KEM joined the demonstration by Dalit organisations outside the college.
Despite what he went through, Sugat did not fail a single exam, though he admits he did not do as well as he could have. Abused as a reserved category student, his academic performance under continuous mental trauma effectively demolishes the 'reservation versus merit' myth.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com