The probe in Dr Payal Tadvi’s suicide was transferred to the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police on Thursday. Tadvi was a postgraduate medical student at a Mumbai hospital, who ended her life after she was allegedly harassed by her seniors.
Tadvi’s autopsy had found “evidence of ligature mark over (her) neck”, which was deduced as the “provisional cause of death”.
Even as the outrage and demand for justice for Tadvi continues, the anti-ragging committee of the TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai has found that Payal faced “extreme harassment” from three senior colleagues — Bhakti Mehre, Ankita Khandelwal and Hema Ahuja — for several days before she took her life on 22 May. The three women were arrested by the Mumbai Police on Wednesday and sent to police custody till 31 May as the police are trying to find out their involvement in tampering/damaging Tadvi’s suicide note and retrieve their phone records while also probing the angle of murder. They have sought two-week police custody of the accused who were produced before a special court in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Deepak Kundal, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Agripada, who is investigating the case, told the court the police need to find out if there was any suicide note in the case, India Today reported. The accused, meanwhile, have been booked under relevant provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Anti-Ragging Act, the IT Act and Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC.
According to the college’s report, Tadvi was admonished by the accused in the presence of other staff and patients on 22 May and was seen crying. Her husband had, earlier, filed a verbal complaint with the head of the gynaecology department in the medical college, Yi Ching Ling, citing the harassment being faced by her. However, after the complaint was filed, the accused didn’t speak to Tadvi for two days, but thereafter she faced “extreme harassment”, casteist remarks and was unfairly admonished several times, the report says.
The report relies on statements of 30 people including Payal’s family, colleagues, and staff, as per a report by The News Minute. According to The Indian Express the seniors even threatened Payal, saying they will make sure that she does not graduate to the third year, her family has claimed.
The victim’s husband, Salman told The Indian Express, that the three accused seniors ensured that his wife would perform only minor work. “First-year students who joined on 1 May were asked to assist in deliveries but Payal, despite being in the second year, was not allowed to work,” he alleged. He also said that he did not mention the issue of caste discrimination in his verbal complaint as he was worried about the career of the seniors.
Salman told the anti-ragging committee that Tadvi assisted in two deliveries on the day she took her life. She was apparently “scolded” over her handling of procedures. Tadvi is believed to have taken her life between 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm on 22 May.
She had told her husband that the harassment began in December 2018, six months after she started her post-graduation at the BYL Nair Hospital, but he told her to ignore the harassers and study. Meanwhile, Tadvi’s parents, Abeda and Salim, also accused Tadvi’s seniors of allegedly subjected her to humiliation with casteist slurs and denial of opportunities. Abeda told The Hindu that the seniors would go to the toilet and then wipe their feet on Tadvi’s mattress and litter it when she was made to share the room with them at the beginning. She said that her daughter cried every day due to the torture she was facing.
In the days leading to her death, Tadvi’s family alleged that she also heard the three seniors saying things like “these caste people don’t know anything” and that Tadvi had gotten admission through quota.
Transcripts of chats between Tadvi and a friend, accessed by the Mumbai Mirror reveal that the post-graduate student had considered changing her unit to escape what she described as “unbearable torture” by her seniors. Tadvi, as early as November 2018, told her friend that her seniors were preventing her from learning, leaving her far behind her batchmates, adding that the seniors use foul language to target her. She even told her friend that she has asked her parents to keep Rs 20 lakh ready – the money she would have to pay the state government for quitting her quota PG seat.
In one chat with her mother, Tadvi urged her to not bring up the caste issue as not many at her workplace, she says, know that she belongs to a backward class — in response to her mother offering to speak to the senior hospital staff on her behalf.
Meanwhile, the accused on Tuesday wrote a letter to the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) — which has suspended them — for a “fair probe” and “justice”. “This is not the way to do an investigation through police force and media pressure, without hearing our side,” the three doctors said in their letter to the association.
On Wednesday, the three doctors told the court that soon after the incident they had met the dean of Nair hospital, who had advised them to go to the police and cooperate with them. They said in court that they had met the police but were told that their statements were not needed.
Advocate Abad Ponda, appearing for the two of the accused, argued that it is because of immense pressure from different entities that this case has been hyped to such a level. He said that the accused had approached the court for an anticipatory bail application but police searched offices of advocates and picked up the accused from the court before their anticipatory bail application could be heard, the India Today report states.
“If some people don’t perform their duties then it could lead to loss of lives so the accused had spoken about complaining to the teachers about not just doctor Payal Tadvi but others too. Others did not commit suicide,” Ponda said. The defense lawyer further said that a family dispute could also be the reason for Payal’s extreme step as the deceased and her husband were living separately despite being in the same city, the report says.
Following Payal’s death, several activists, students and party members of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi had been protesting at the hospital seeking justice, An online campaign with #JusticeForPayal was also started on Twitter.
Meanwhile, The National Commission for Women has written to the director of the hospital, requesting an investigation and to inform the commission of action taken, ANI reported. The state women’s commission has also served a notice to the hospital, demanding a reply from the authorities within eight days.