On May 22, hours before Dr Payal Tadvi committed suicide by hanging in her hostel room, she was scolded in the operation theatre in front of other staff and patients, and was seen crying as she left.
In the nine days leading to that morning, after her husband complained to the gynaecology unit head at the TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai, she faced “extreme harassment” from three senior resident doctors. They had come to know about the complaint against them.
These events are part of a report submitted Tuesday by the anti-ragging committee of the college attached to B Y L Nair Hospital on the reasons behind the suicide of Payal (26), a second-year PG student of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
The report, based on statements from 30 people including Payal’s family, colleagues and staff, has found evidence of harassment and caste remarks made by the three seniors, Dr Hema Ahuja, Dr Ankita Khandelwal and Dr Bhakti Mehare. Payal belonged to the Tadvi Muslim Bhil Scheduled Tribe community.
Police arrested Mehare late Tuesday afternoon and are looking for the two other doctors. All of them have been named in the FIR filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, IPC sections for abetment to suicide and Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999. Payal’s family was also part of a protest Tuesday outside the hospital to demand justice.
The family claims that for two days after a verbal complaint was made on May 13 by Payal’s husband Dr Salman Tadvi to unit head Dr Y I Ching Ling, the three seniors did not talk to her. On the third day, one of them allegedly threw a file at her and rebuked her for “shoddy” work. The next day, they allegedly threatened that they will not let her complete the year.
“Payal told us that the torture got worse after the complaint. We realised that the three seniors had the unit head’s support,” said her brother Ritesh Tadvi, who is polio-affected and travelled from Jalgaon to participate in the protest.
According to Salman, the three seniors did not let his wife perform caesarean procedures after his complaint. “They would make her do minor work. First-year students who joined on May 1 were asked to assist in deliveries but Payal, despite being in the second year, was not allowed to work,” he claimed.
“I regret that I didn’t raise the caste discrimination issue because I was worried about the career of those three girls. I will regret this my entire life,” said Salman, who works as an associate professor with Dr R N Cooper Hospital. “I could have raised the matter through top college authorities but preferred to follow protocol and approached the unit head first,” he said. In the last four days before she took the extreme step, Payal was criticised at work every day, her mother Abeda Salim said. This account was corroborated by two other colleagues, Snehal and Anurupa, in their statements to the anti-ragging committee.
“She cried every day. She said the complaint to the unit head yielded no response from the hospital. Instead, the torture increased every day,” said Abeda.
The family also claimed that Payal overheard a conversation among the three seniors in which they referred to her and allegedly said that “these caste people don’t know anything” and that “she got admission through caste quota”.
According to Salman, he last spoke with Payal on May 21 at 10.30 pm, the night before she committed suicide. “She sounded happy. She was going to have dinner with friends,” he said, adding that he could not speak to her frequently during the final days because he was busy with his father’s bypass surgery.
Salman has told the anti-ragging committee that Payal assisted in two deliveries on May 22 morning, and was scolded by the three seniors over her handling of procedures. At 2.30 pm, she was seen crying as she left the unit. At 4 pm, she called her mother who advised her to meet her husband and spend the day at their Mahalaxmi flat. The death is believed to have occurred between 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm.
“I told her I’ll come from Jalgaon and bring her back with me. I could understand that she was being tortured. She was crying so much,” said Abeda, a cancer patient.
Salman, who married Payal in 2016, said she first confided about the harassment in December 2018, six months after starting her post-graduation at Nair hospital. “I kept telling her to ignore them and study. I was wrong. Why should we hear taunts over our caste? This is the worst kind of caste discrimination,” Salman said.
“We had planned to relocate to Jalgaon to start a hospital for our community. But now, those plans will always remain just plans,” Salman said.