Twenty-six-year-old medical student Dr Payal Tadvi committed suicide on May 22 over alleged harassment by three seniors in Mumbai. The gynaecology PG student belonged to the Tadvi Bhil Muslim community and got admission through a reserved category seat in TN Topiwala National Medical College in 2018. A year later, she was found hanging in her hostel room. The community, to which she belonged, is concentrated in four states of India.
Tadvi Bhil, a tribal community listed under Scheduled Tribes, is found in small pockets of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. They are a sub-caste of the larger Bhil community. Those who adopted Islam are known as Tadvi Bhil Muslims.
The Tadvi Bhil Muslims are syncretic and unrigid in their practice of Islam. They also retain many aspects of Hindu culture. “You will find them wearing a sari, or they will fold and join their hands in front of an idol. They offer namaz but their lifestyle remains traditionally and culturally Hindu,” Shekhar Madhukar Sunarkar, a Gandhian social worker said.
According to Sameer Tadvi, a Jalgaon local, there are an estimated 62,000 Tadvi Bhil Muslims in Jalgaon itself – the largest in Maharashtra. Some experts say it is possible the community is over a lakh in Jalgaon in three blocks — Raver, Yawal, and Chopda.
Razia Patel, retired head of the minority cell at the centre for educational studies, Indian Institute of Education, Pune, says the Bhil Muslims were a nomadic tribe living in mountains and hills. “Due to the Forest Act, several were displaced. They slowly spread out from North of Maharashtra and took up farm jobs,” Patel said. In Maharashtra, they are spread over Nandurbar, Dhule and Jalgaon.
Shekhar Madhukar Sunarkar said several Tadvi Bhil converted to Islam when Aurangazeb toured Burhanpur, an important Mughal outpost (in modern day Madhya Pradesh).
Very few in the community are educated. Literacy rates remain low. Experts say they are among the last to gain benefits of government schemes and reservation quotas.
Payal’s family claims that she was the first woman in their community to become a gynaecologist. The community has poor health outreach and Payal wanted to open a hospital in Jalgaon along with her husband. About 30 years ago, Sunarkar says, the community saw another woman who studied to get an MBBS degree. But Payal was the first to pursue a Doctorate in Medicine.