The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed three postgraduate medical students accused of abetting the suicide of a junior colleague to complete the remaining nine months of their course from their college in Mumbai, reported Mumbai Mirror. Payal Tadvi Tadvi had died by suicide in May 2019 after allegedly facing casteist abuse from them at the Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai, where she worked.

While relaxing their bail condition, the Supreme Court asked Hema Ahuja, Bhakti Mehare and Ankita Khandelwal not to influence any witness and to stay away from the college and hospital as much as possible. It asked them to reside in the college and hospital quarters only if their registration as postgraduate students requires them to be full-time residents there.

The trio had completed two out of three years of the course at Topiwala National Medical College, Mumbai, in April 2019. They were working as residents in BYL Nair Charity Hospital, attached to the college.

The three doctors were arrested on May 29, 2019 seven days after Tadvi died by suicide. In August 2019, the Bombay High Court had granted them bail in the case. However, the court had said that the trio “shall not enter into the jurisdiction of Agripada Police Station (where the case is registered) and, more particularly, Topiwala National Medical College (B.Y.L. Nair Ch. Hospital)”. The three then moved the Supreme Court, seeking relaxation of their bail condition.

“Even a convict is allowed to have academic pursuits while undergoing sentence and develop his potential as a human being to the fullest,” said the Supreme Court bench of Justices UU Lalit, Vineet Saran and Ajay Rastogi, according to The Indian Express. “The state apparatus must facilitate such pursuits rather than hamper any attempts in that behalf. The appellants, therefore, by any standard, are entitled to continue their courses of study subject to the caveat expressed…”

The court said its order will be effective from the beginning of the second term of academic session 2020-’21. “…If such term has already begun, it shall come into effect from 12.10.2020,” it added.

The Maharashtra government, the Mumbai Police and Tadvi’s mother opposed the plea. All three said that allowing the accused back in the same college would jeopardise the trial, reported The Wire.

In September, the state government had filed two separate affidavits claiming that the demands of the accused “don’t deserve to be considered”. It added that there was a “grave sense of hostility” against the accused persons in the college they had once studied.

In the evening on May 22, Payal Tadvi was found hanging in her hostel room at the Topiwala National Medical College, which runs under the BYL Nair Hospital. Tadvi, 27, was a resident in the gynaecology and obstetrics department. Her family has alleged that she was being harassed by three senior doctors because of her caste identity. Bhakti Mehere, Ankita Khandelwal and Hema Ahuja – all belonging to upper-caste groups – allegedly demonstrated resentment against Tadvi for having obtained her medical seat through reservation for Scheduled Tribes.

Tadvi, from Jalgaon in Maharashtra, belonged to the Bhil Adivasi community. She had joined the Topiwala National Medical College in 2018 after finishing MBBS from Government Medical College, Miraj.

After the incident, the college since formed a committee to look into Tadvi’s death and suspended the three accused doctors. The Mumbai police have booked them under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act, anti-ragging provisions and Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code that relates to abetment of suicide.

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Mumbai Adivasi doctor’s suicide highlights extreme casteism in India’s medical colleges