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IDIA scholar, GNLU student Jumika Yeptho loses battle against tuberculosis and funding, despite best efforts

Jumika Yeptho RIP
Jumika Yeptho RIP

GNLU Gandhinagar student and Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) scholar Jumika Yeptho died yesterday of advanced tuberculosis meningitis, despite an IDIA campaign to raise funding for his medical expenses.

IDIA founder Shamnad Basheer wrote in an email today: “Despite our best efforts, a wonderful panel of doctors in Gujarat and Assam were unable to stem the tide of a deadly TB bacteria that had invaded his brain, lungs and even spine.

“He finally succumbed last afternoon. And was taken by his family to Dimapur (Nagaland) late last night. The funeral ceremony etc will be at 2 pm today.

“Even as we grieve at this huge loss, please keep Jumika and his family in your prayers.”

In late September, IDIA called for donations, with executive vice president Swaraj Paul Barooah writing:

With a huge family, and no bread earner, he is struggling between life and death. Unlike many of us, he doesn’t have the financial privilege that is needed for benefiting from the healthcare industry. Jumika has a long recovery after he gets out of coma and our prayers and funds are the only thing that could help him right now.

While IDIA ultimately raised enough funds to secure his medical treatment, the help came too late.

Basheer wrote:

Unfortunately, we failed Jumika at several levels, as he always remained on the margins at GNLU (Gujarat National Law University) where he was studying. Kept to himself and was often the victim of a subtle prejudice that we reserve for those from the North East of India. A prejudice that even translated to his very own classmates suspecting that his behaviour in the days leading up-to the hospitalisation was the result of drug use. Fortunately, when I visited him in hospital some weeks ago, we spoke to a range of students to confirm that this was merely hearsay and none of them could directly attest to ever seeing him use drugs.

The doctors at the hospital in Ahmedabad (where he was first admitted) also tested for drug use and all came out negative. A reputed neurologist confirmed to me that all of his actions in the days leading up to hospitalisation (not being able to co-ordinate movements, speaking out of turn in class etc) were all the result of the TB bacteria attacking his brain cells (apparently 3-0-40% of his brain was infected with the bacteria). And not drugs!

Just goes to show us the power of prejudice!

Anyway, we need to now work harder at redressing some of these issues…and creating an ecosystem that is less harsh to those at the margins. One that celebrates plurality and actively embraces difference and diversity.

On IDIA’s website, Yeptho was described as:

An earnest and sincere student, Jumika grew up in a village close to Dimapur in Nagaland. At an early age, Jumika was awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Sanik School, where he completed his schooling.

While Jumika’s father, the sole bread winner of the family, works for the State Government, but life has not been easy. Jumika has a large family. His parents, three brothers, two sisters and three extended family members live under the same roof and struggle to make ends meet on the modest salary of a government employee. As the eldest son, Jumika hopes to share the responsibility of his parents soon.

Jumika wishes to study law because he believes that law is a means to help the needy, and he wishes to help the people of his community. Jumika has successfully started down this path, as he did very well in the CLAT and secured an admission at GNLU, Gandhinagar. We have very high hopes from this IDIA Scholar, and are eager to see Jumika fulfill his noble aspirations of helping his community.

Basheer added in his email:

Jumika was exceptional in more ways than one. His cousin, Zimomi narrated an interesting story to me. Apparently, in Sainik school (where Jumika studied till class 11), he took on a teacher who was woefully pathetic at teaching and never made an effort to improve. He complained to his principal, who asked him to withdraw his complaint or face the consequences. Jumika didn’t budge, and was expelled from school! He had to join another school midway through term and still managed to clear his exams with good marks and finally make it to law school after cracking CLAT.

We’ve clearly lost someone with spunk. And the courage and conviction to make a difference.

Even as we reflect on how we failed him at IDIA, let’s also celebrate a bit of his legacy (at least what little we knew of him). We’re planning to put together a short book with some of these stories and narratives from family and friends who knew him well.

In the end, while we grieve at the loss of one of our very own, let’s also firm up our commitment to locate more such gems hidden in India’s interiors. And ensure that they stay safe and free of prejudice, so as to blossom to their fullest potential.

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