(Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide, caste discrimination. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)
"She might have been stressed because of studies, but she died because she was a Dalit," a family member of Penumala Vidya Priyanka, a 19-year-old NEET aspirant who allegedly died by suicide in Hyderabad's Hayathnagar on Monday, 3 April, told The Quint over the phone.
According to Hayathnagar Police, Vidya, who was preparing for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) at a coaching institute in Hayathnagar, tried to take her life at her hostel after 9:30 pm on Monday. She was taken to a private hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries.
In a complaint to the police, Vidya's father Penumala Prabhakar Rao alleged that four other students, who were her roommates at the coaching institute, used to "harass her mentally by mentioning her caste name" and that she was traumatised.
The police, however, said that as per the statements of her roommates, Vidya was stressed and had difficulty studying.
A case under Section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the IPC and relevant sections under the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act has been registered, the police said. No arrests have been made in the case so far.
What Did Her Family Allege?
Vidya was pursuing her MBBS degree at Davao International Medical Academy at Hayathnagar, which is affiliated with the Davao Medical School Foundation in the Philippines. Once she cleared her NEET, Vidya was slated to go to the Philippines, Chandra Shekar, her cousin, told The Quint.
"She used to stay at the academy, but last month, the management allotted her and four other female students a room at the Excel IIT & Medical Academy in Hayathnagar, which is a coaching institute for NEET. They used to stay in a congested room with five beds," Shekar added.
Shekar claimed that it was when she was applying for the NEET exam in March that her roommates got to know of her caste. "She had shared some documents with them so they could help her apply. But suddenly, their behaviour changed," he alleged.
"They started treating her differently – even during meals. She was asked to wash all their plates. They were not talking to her, they told everybody else at the institute about her caste."Chandra Shekar, Vidya's Cousin
"They also blamed the reservation system, and said that they were losing out on opportunities because of her," he alleged.
In the First Information Report (FIR), Vidya's father said that she had informed him about her roommates' alleged behaviour.
"He approached the management to discuss the same with them, but the management didn't respond properly… they didn't give any warning to the students. Since then, he used to contact his daughter over the phone and give moral support to her," the FIR read.
Shekhar said that on Monday, Vidya spoke to her father on the phone multiple times.
"The last call was made around 9:30 pm. She spoke very happily, and she said she had a tuition class at 9:30 pm and hung up. After 9:45 pm, her parents got a call saying she was being rushed to a hospital," he said.
Vidya's father used to work as a primary school teacher but quit after he fell ill. Her mother T Susheela is a nurse. The family is based in Bhadradri Kothagudem district in Telangana.
The Quint has accessed the transcription of Vidya's last conversation with her parents. In a purported phone call, which lasted nearly 2 minutes, Vidya is heard asking both her parents what they were doing and whether they had dinner. She also tells her father that she misses him and that she would call him after her class.
"Vidya always wanted to be a doctor. In fact, she had encouraged other women in the family to join the MBBS course," Shekhar said. Her family had paid Rs 5 lakh to get her into the coaching institute, he claimed.
"She was a strong person, and very friendly. Sometimes, I would even catch her speaking to animals. She was very empathetic," added Shekar.
What Did the Police Say?
Speaking to The Quint, Inspector H Venkateshwaralu of the Hayathnagar Police, said that as per the statements of her roommates, Vidya was stressed because of the workload.
"As per their statements, Vidya had personal problems and had difficulty studying. They said she was upset a lot," the Inspector said.
A purported note was also received from Vidya's possession. While the Inspector told The Quint that they were in the process of verifying it, the note said that "no one was responsible for her death."
In the note – a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint – Vidya purportedly asks her brother, Tarun Sai, to take care of her parents while she's gone. She also apologises to her family, asking them not to feel bad for her.
The Quint reached out to Davao International Medical Academy over the phone but there has been no response. The article will be updated with their version when they reply.