In at least three statements recorded by the Mumbai Police investigating the suicide of postgraduate student Dr Payal Tadvi, Class IV employees working in the gynaecology department of BYL Nair Hospital have said that she was subjected to casteist slurs by the three doctors accused of abetting her suicide.
Following the death of Tadvi, who allegedly hanged herself in her hostel room at the T N Topiwala National Medical College on May 22, the three senior resident doctors had been arrested on charges of abetting suicide and caste discrimination.
According to the statement of a helper in the gynaecology ward, in December 2018, when accused doctors Hema Ahuja, Ankita Khandelwal and Bhakti Mehare were taking rounds of the ward, they had reprimanded Tadvi over some unfinished work. They had allegedly said, “Ye kaam kon karega, ye tera kaam nahi hai toh kiska kaam hai? Tu chhoti jaat ho ke hamari barabari karegi kya (Who will do this work, if this is not your work then whose is it? Coming from a lower caste, you think you are our equal)?”
The statement of another a class IV employee read that in March 2019, around 9.30 pm, when Tadvi was checking on patients in the ward, Ahuja and Mehare had arrived at the spot and said, “Aye Adiwasi… tu idar kyu aayi hai? Tu delivery karneke layak nahi hai, tu hamari barabari karti hai (You tribal, why have you come here? You’re not competent to perform a delivery, and you are trying to compete with us).”
Another important statement is that of Snehal Shinde, Tadvi’s roommate and colleague, who has claimed that Ahuja allegedly continued to “taunt” Tadvi while standing outside her hostel room, unaware that she had committed suicide.
Shinde, who Tadvi has mentioned in her suicide note as someone who was similarly harassed by the three seniors, claimed that Ahuja called her around 7 pm on May 22 to ask if she had made preparations for the ward rounds. Ten minutes later, Ahuja called Shinde again and asked her to rush to the eighth floor as Tadvi was not opening the door.
“I rushed to the eight floor. Hema and Bhakti were already standing there. I also attempted to knock on Payal’s door and called out to her but there was no response. At that time, Hema was saying to Payal, ‘yeh bhagodi hai kya? Himmat hai toh saamne aake baat kar. Aise chupkar kyun baithi ho (Are you a deserter? If you have courage, come out and talk. Why are you hiding)’,” Snehal has said in her statement. Ahuja was the last person to have spoken to Tadvi around 4.51 pm on May 22.
The apprehension among the accused that Tadvi may have written a suicide note also comes forth in Snehal’s statement. “Around 9 pm, Payal was declared dead. I was sitting in the trauma room and crying. After some time, Dr Ankita, Dr Hema and others took me out of the trauma room and made me sit in the ward. Ankita asked for my phone. I thought she had to make a call, hence, I handed it over to her. But I saw her going through my phone’s photo gallery and asked her what she was doing… she returned the phone without replying,” Snehal has said.
Police alleged CCTV footage of the eighth floor showed the accused returning to Tadvi’s room after she was rushed to the trauma room. They claimed the physical copy of the suicide note was allegedly destroyed by the three. It was only after the forensic experts at the Kalina Forensic Laboratory examined Tadvi’s phone that photographs of the three-page suicide note were found, taken by Tadvi at 5.04 pm, minutes after she spoke to Ahuja.
— (Inputs from Sagar Rajput, Tabassum Barnagarwala)