On Saturday, as he addressed the first-year postgraduate students of gynaecology in Grant Medical College, head of department Dr Ashok Anand said, “These three years will be full of stress, you can be expected on duty any time during emergency, you cannot leave hospital without informing us. But try to enjoy your MD, eat well, rest when possible and work together as a team.”
Following the suicide of Dr Payal Tadvi, a second-year gynaecology student in TN Topiwala National Medical College, medical colleges are reassuring that students about ways to cope with mounting work pressure. While Nair hospital unit head Dr Y I Ching Ling was held responsible in an anti-ragging committee report for neglecting complaint of harassment, Grant Medical College, attached to JJ hospital, has set an example with a case of harassment it handled swiftly, preventing a possible suicide.
On January 15, a 27-year-old second-year gynaecology student approached the head of department with an unofficial complaint against her unit head of ‘torture, overburdening of work, and forcing the students to do house chores’. The student reported she had suicidal thoughts, had contemplated seeking help from suicide helplines and also searched online for counselling support. “She was immediately sent on medical leave for four days,” a senior doctor in JJ hospital said. On January 23, the student was encouraged to officially register a complaint with college dean. Her unit was changed immediately and a request to change her thesis guide was put under process.
“I realised Payal and my complaints were similar. Both of us were harassed by people we report to. I had contemplated suicide and probably would have done something if my department head did not support me,” the 27-year-old told The Indian Express. She added that while casteist remarks are uncommon in medical colleges, harassment is not rare.
According to her complaint, she had gone to Bengaluru for a conference with unit head, and faced abuse. The unit head had forced her to book flight tickets for her family and had not reimbursed. “The torture intensified, she made me attend to all patients, withdrew support of interns for me and called me on duty at odd hours,” the student said.
Two separate inquiries were held by dean of Grant Medical College on allegations of harassment and allegations of extorting money from students. In May first week, the unit head was transferred to Government Medical College, Ambajogai.
“While my family supported me, it is important for professors to back our claims,” the student, now in final year, said.
Payal (26), who belonged to Tadvi Bhil community, got admission in Topiwala college through reserved seat. She committed suicide on May 22 due to alleged harassment and caste discrimination by three seniors. According to her family, a complaint to unit head nine days before she committed suicide led to no action.
Last year, a similar complaint was registered with Medical Council of India by a second-year PG gynaecology student of Grant Medical College against seniors for harassing her. She belonged to same unit as the 27-year-old.
“The hospital instituted a committee and initiated inquiry, but later the student herself withdrew the complaint,” a senior doctor said, adding that the student went on six months’ leave due to harassment. When contacted, the student told The Indian Express, “I also had suicidal thoughts, and required social support. I withdrew the complaint under pressure from seniors but I had department head’s support which really helped me.”
According to Dr Avinash Supe, former head of medical education in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, each medical college has a set protocol for addressing harassment or ragging complaints. The head of department or unit head must inform the anti-ragging committee if the student approaches them, Supe said. “Sometimes we provide them counselling, and re-check six months later if the student is alright,” he said.
Head of KEM psychiatry department, Dr Shubhangi Parkar, said whenever a complaint of harassment comes, sometimes both – the student complaining and one against whom the complaint is registered – are counselled. Parkar added that the hostel warden plays an important role in identification of vulnerable students.
“Several students come from far away. In institutes like KEM, Nair and Sion hospital, all students come on merit basis and competition is tough. Depending on their vulnerability, they do need supportive counselling since the environment is alien for them,” Parkar said, adding that follow up after few months is necessary. She counsels at least three-four students in a month, more during exams.