Lifestyle & Belief

India: Another Dalit suicide highlights discrimination


A dalit - low-caste or the oppressed - Hindu women buys a statue of B R Ambedka, a low-caste Hindu who fought against discrimination and who died over 50 years ago.


Sajjad Hussain

Allegedly sodomized and sexually harassed for two years, a Dalit student at a university in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh committed suicide Monday, adding to a string of deaths that have highlighted the continuing discrimination against low-caste Indians, even at institutes of higher learning.

According to the Times of India, 22-year-old Ajay Pardole, a student at Rewa University, hanged himself in his hostel room Monday, after the special police division responsible for crimes against the so-called "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes" took no action on his complaint.

Pardole had apparently complained on May 14 that a senior student had been sexually harassing him since 2010, but nothing was done. He wrote several letters to high-ranking officials, but received no response. And finally two days ago, he walked into the police station and told them flat out he planned to kill himself if nothing was done before July 9.

"What is the purpose of Setting up SC/ST police stations when they cannot act on complaints?" a local activist lamented in an email calling for international media to highlight the story.

As GlobalPost reported last year, Dalit suicides are all too common at India's universities. 

No official effort has been made to determine how many of the more than 16,000 school and college students who have killed themselves over the past four years hail from India's historically oppressed castes, and only one study, covering only the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, has investigated discrimination on campus.

But the Insight Foundation believes that a disproportionate number of the students committing suicides are Dalits, and its members allege that caste discrimination, a dirty secret, is ubiquitous at India's top universities — even as the government works to expand access to higher education with quotas, or reservations, for historically oppressed groups.

"The problem which we face in elite institutions is much worse," said Anoop Kumar, the Insight Foundation's national coordinator, and a Dalit himself. "These elite institutions are considered to be very prestigious, and the Dalit students who enter there are thought to be intruding into that space through reservations — they don't deserve to be there, this is such a competitive place, this is such a meritorious place, and these guys have come through quota. So the hatred and hostility is much more."

On the other hand, when it comes to the police, another Times of India report suggests that it's not only Dalits who have a difficult time getting a response. In 2011, the Madhya Pradesh faced the second-highest number of human rights complaints, after Uttar Pradesh, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

The report suggests that 10,683 incidents of police violating the human rights have come to light in the year 2011, the paper said. But Madhya Pradesh initiated inquires in only 1845 cases out of the total.