Caste bias shadow on All India Institute of Medical Sciences exams
A parliamentary panel has found that caste bias at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences here leads to many Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe MBBS students to be failed repeatedly in their exams, with a rights activist describing the situation as “institutional apartheid”.
The committee on SC/ST welfare, headed by BJP member Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, has in a report on the implementation of the reservation policy at AIIMS, New Delhi, also alleged discrimination against Dalit and tribal candidates during faculty recruitment.
“The committee are given to understand that MBBS students from SC and ST community are declared failed a number of times in the MBBS course at first, second and/ or third stages of professional examination despite sincere efforts by them,” the committee report, presented in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, says.
“It has been often seen that these students had invariably done very well in theory examinations but declared failed in the practical examinations. This clearly underlines the bias… towards SC/ST students.
“Further, the committee are made to understand that the examiners tend to ask the name of the students and try to judge/ know if a student belongs to SC/ST community. The committee, therefore, recommends that the ministry of health and family welfare should take stern action to check such unfair practice in future.”
The 30-member panel has recommended that AIIMS students be made to take their exams using a code number and not their names, and that the Centre put in place an examination-monitoring system.
It has added that the dean of examinations must scan every instance of a Dalit or tribal student failing an exam and submit a comprehensive report to the director-general of health services for necessary action within a stipulated time.
The House panel often examines allegations relating to caste discrimination or the implementation of reservations at specific institutions. It then makes recommendations to the Centre, which is expected to later inform the panel about the actions taken or not taken, with the reasoning behind its decisions.
Gurinder Azad, a Dalit activist who has documented the discrimination faced by Dalit students on campuses, said there was “institutional apartheid” against these communities.
“Here, the fundamental question is what happens afterwards to punish such professors and examiners, and what measures are adopted to prevent such discrimination? I say nothing,” he said.
Azad said another committee had earlier investigated and found caste discrimination at AIIMS.
The Sukhadeo Thorat committee had in 2007 probed complaints that SC and ST students at AIIMS were not allowed to dine or play with others, and would be called to rooms and asked by their peers to give 10 reasons why reservation should not be scrapped.
Thorat found enough evidence of caste bias and recommended the establishment of an “equal opportunity office” in all internal committees at AIIMS to deal with such complaints.
Manish Kumar, who along with 24 other Dalit and tribal MBBS students at the Vardhman Mahavir Medical College here had in 2010 approached the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) with similar complaints, said the House panel’s recommendations should be implemented across the country.
Of the 35 Dalit and tribal MBBS students admitted to Vardhman between 2004 and 2009, as many as 25 — Kumar and the other 24 complainants — were failed repeatedly in one particular subject, physiology.
The NCSC set up a committee in 2011 under former Mumbai University vice-chancellor Bhalchandra Mungekar. It recommended that codes instead of names be used during exams. The institute adopted the measure and most of the complainants passed their physiology exam, Kumar said.
“The recommendations of Mungekar and this parliamentary panel should be implemented in all institutions. The NCSC had publicised the Mungekar report for all institutions to follow, but it did not happen. One after another, we see instances of institutional (caste) bias,” Kumar said.
Of the 1,111 faculty positions at AIIMS, the posts of 275 assistant professors and 92 professors are vacant.
“The committee are not inclined to accept the frequently stereotype reply of the government that ‘no sufficient number of suitable candidate could be found’ (for reserved posts),” the report says.
It does not specify how many of the vacancies involve posts reserved for SCs and STs.
“This is in fact not a correct picture of assessment of the SC/ST candidates who are equally bright and deserving. But they are deliberately declared as ‘not suitable’ because of wrong biased assessment by the selection committee just to deprive SC/ST candidates of their legitimate rights to be part of faculty member,” the report says.
It recommends that a separate selection panel, where the chairperson and most of the members are Dalit or tribal, be set up for recruitment to the SC/ST posts.
It adds that all vacant faculty positions must be filled within the next three months and that no reserved faculty post should be vacant for more than six months.
Currently, reservation is not implemented in admission to super-speciality medical courses anywhere as part of a decades-old government policy. The House panel has suggested a change.
“Reservation policy must be enforced in all super-specialty fields at student as well as faculty level strictly to ensure presence of SC and ST faculty members there also,” the report says.
“For the purpose, the committee are of the firm view that effective mechanism be set up to send SC and ST doctors and students to undergo specialised training abroad so that their adequate representation may be seen visibly in all super-specialty fields.”