ON A SATURDAY EVENING in the first week of March, Anil Kumar Meena, a first-year student at the elite All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, reluctantly joined his friends for a weekend game of cricket on the campus lawns. Anil was a little lost on the field—he fumbled with the ball, dropped catches, and his throwscame in late. At times, he wistfully watched the ball roll across the boundary.
“He was depressed,” his friend Rajendra Meena, a second-year student at AIIMS, recalled. “I had to drag him forcibly from his room to play.” But after they lost the match, Anil went over to Rajendra’s hostel room to watch an episode of the popular comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge on Rajendra’s computer. The two boys, who had both made a long journey to India’s most prestigious medical school from impoverished Dalit families in remote, rural Rajasthan, shared a good laugh before Anil returned to his own room to study.
When Rajendra went downstairs to Anil’s room a few hours later to borrow a packet of biscuits, he found his friend sitting on a chair with his head lowered, staring anxiously at the floor. An anatomy textbook was lying open on the desk, but Anil was turned in the other direction, facing his bed. “The sheets were rolled up like a rope,” Rajendra said. “I asked him, why are your sheets like this, and he said he had to wash them.”
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