The newest revolution is the number of hospitals owned by Dalit doctors that are springing up everywhere in the country, posing a powerful counter to the centuries-old stigmas.
ThePrint is publishing articles on Dalit issues as part of Dalit History Month.
The new arrow in Dalit communities’ quiver is not only education but their demonstrable ability to compete in the open market. The ‘meritorious educated Dalit’ disrupts the collective imagery of the community in the upper caste minds.
No doubt, education enables Dalits to secure government jobs through reservations, which remain a safeguard against discrimination. But the counter-revolution condemns them as meritless. So, instead of depending on government jobs, now Dalits are becoming entrepreneurs and competing without any state support.
The newest revolution is the number of hospitals owned by Dalit doctors that are springing up everywhere in the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh. These are new symbols of Dalit assertion dotting posh colonies of towns like Agra, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Meerut, Roorkee, Saharanpur, etc.
These Dalit-owned hospitals were profiled recently in Dalit Enterprise, a new magazine launched by Chandra Bhan Prasad. It set three criteria to select its subjects. One, the Dalit doctor to be profiled must have received his medical education through quotas; two, his/her hospital must be known locally as Dalit-owned, and; three, s/he must employ non-Dalit doctors in the hospitals.
The evocative title of the feature is – ‘Dalits in Merit Mandi’.
Meet Dr Shyam Kumar, whose journey fits the familiar rags-to-riches story pattern. Raised in a poor Dalit family from a UP village, Kumar was a topper in school and college. The turning point came in 1996: Having just finished his MS (Master of Surgery) that year, he could have sought employment in a government hospital. But he had neither the patience nor the luxury to wait at least a year to finish all the formalities to get a government job as a doctor.
So, he immediately joined a private nursing home in Hapur, about 90 km away from his village. In 2007, he founded Dev Nandani Hospital in the same town in partnership with his friend and famous gynaecologist, Dr Vimlesh Sharma.
The 100-bed establishment is now one of the best referral hospitals in this part of the country. In addition to regular specialisations like ophthalmology, dentistry, imaging and pathology services, it even boasts of a test tube baby facility, dialysis and a blood bank.
The hospital has 250 employees, 20 consultants and 16 junior doctors. It serves about 600 outpatients and has performed about 30,000 surgeries since 2007.
The story of another Dalit doctor, Dr Mahesh Chandra, a dermatologist, is no different. He runs his hospital, Chandra Skin and Maternity Centre, on Bajoria Road in Saharanpur. His gynaecologist wife, Dr Nanita Chandra, takes care of the maternity part of the business.
A doctor who doesn’t have his clinic or hospital on Bajoria Road doesn’t exist as a healthcare professional in Saharanpur.
What is it that these doctors seek to accomplish? They might have been motivated by a desire to remain independent and not become wage slaves. Maybe, they thought getting a government job even through quotas would not be that easy, given the competition and shrinking public employment.
However, by running their facilities in upscale localities and sticking to high standards of operations, these Dalit doctors pose a powerful counter to all the stigma heaped on their community for centuries.
They also continue to take forward the revolution of radical social transformation sparked by Dr Ambedkar who aptly said, “Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of mind.”
Of course, many would argue that a few dozen Dalit doctors running glitzy hospitals cannot solve the problem of caste discrimination and violence that is the Dalits’ lot every day.
In 2015, two poor Dalit brothers from Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh cleared the entrance examination to enter any of the IITs in open category, that is without reservation. Their accomplishment was so stunning that the chief minister personally felicitated them. But, when they reached their village, non-Dalits pelted stones at their home.
The struggle may be two-steps forward and one-step backward, but it is still moving forward incrementally.
In his book, ‘The Big Change: America transforms itself’, Frederick Lewis Allen describes symbolic events as “an increasing number of Negro policemen… arresting white lawbreakers” as social transformation.
The cure for the ‘disease of the mind’ is bound to be long-term. Through education and by standing on their own without any real or imagined crutches, these Dalit doctors symbolise India’s social revolution.
These small social revolutions are happening alongside Dalit struggles against discrimination and the violent pushback from the socially privileged.
The centrepiece of myriad Dalit struggles is the edifice of the Constitution. It is no wonder then that the pushback is also seeking to undermine the nation’s Constitution as an alien value system.
The author is a senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
Read more from ThePrint’s Dalit History Month archives.