ROHITH WE’RE ASHAMED, DRONACHARYAS ARE STILL AROUND

Although Rohith Vemula, the dalit student of Hyderabad Central University who commited suicide because of the humiliation he was subjected to, has not held anybody responsible for his suicide, the fact is that he had not received his scholarship for the last several months and was not allowed to use university facilities such as hostels, clearly indicates that some people were responsible for making his survival difficult. FIR has been registered against the then VC Appa Rao Podile and the central minister Bandaru Dattatreya for writing to minister, HRD, to take action against the five dalit students against whom a false complaint was received from an ABVP student.
Although Rohith Vemula, the dalit student of Hyderabad Central University who commited suicide because of the humiliation he was subjected to, has not held anybody responsible for his suicide, the fact is that he had not received his scholarship for the last several months and was not allowed to use university facilities such as hostels, clearly indicates that some people were responsible for making his survival difficult. FIR has been registered against the then VC Appa Rao Podile and the central minister Bandaru Dattatreya for writing to minister, HRD, to take action against the five dalit students against whom a false complaint was received from an ABVP student.
Rohith had earlier written a letter to the VC suggesting that dalit students be given poison and a rope. This letter was ignored by the VC. If the VC had been a sensitive person he would have sensed the mood of Rohith and would have taken steps to ensure that such suicidal tendencies don’t persist in him. He should have invited Rohith and his friends for dialogue and listened to their grievances sympathetically and if possible should be redressed them in a timely manner. He let the matter prolong enough to create a feeling of despondency in Rohith. The VC quite clearly is guilty of abetting Rohith to take the final decision of ending his life.
Rohith was a bright student. He wanted to be a science fiction writer. He exhibited grit and was not the kind who would have ended his life easily. If he was forced to take the extreme step we can imagine how much humiliation he must have faced and also he must have been under undue pressure and would have found himself in a situation from which he did not see any redemption. It was the society around him which was responsible for his death. The university authorities had barred him and his four other friends from entering hostels, administrative building, public places and from contesting students’ union elections. He was made to feel an untouchable on campus. Like dalits in the society restrictions were imposed on him for entering some privileged spaces. He felt like an ostracized outcaste. The feeling must have been truely unbearable.
Minister, HRD, Smriti Irani has raised questions about Rohith’s dalit identity. Whatever may be Rohith’s identity the fact that he was associated with Ambedkar Students Association, and an association named after Dr. Ambedkar would usually represent the interests of dalit and other students facing caste based discrimination not just in Hyderabad but all across India, is sufficient to conclude that Rohith must have faced caste based discrimination. Actually, non-dalits are jealous of the fact that a dalit student was able to secure admission without using the caste quota. Hence, for the dalit students life is difficult if they use caste quota to get admission and there is no escape even if they secure admission without using the quota. In the former case the student has to bear from insinuations to caustic comments all the time and in the latter s(he) is viewed with suspicion, his/her capability always under question. This is the stinging caste system at work and it reminds us that even today there are Dronacharyas alive on campuses. Once it is discovered that a student is dalit, irrespective of whether s(he) uses quota or not to obtain admission life is made difficult for her/him.
However, it may be difficult to suppress the voice of dalit students now. Three of them raised slogans against Narendra Modi when he went to participate in the convocation programme of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow. Government’s handling of Rohith’s case is probably the beginning of downfall of Modi government. The other day there was brutal repression by police of a rally of Delhi students, to express solidarity with demands of ongoing protests in Hyderabad campus, which was headed towards the RSS headquarters. If the government thinks it can suppress the dalit voice like it does with others, it will be making its biggest mistake.
Rahul Gandhi went to support the fast going on in Hyderabad campus. Rahul Gandhi has earlier also shown sensitivity towards issues of dalit and other marginalised people. He would go and spend the night at some dalit household. However, after visiting several families before the 2017 UP assembly elections he discontinued this practice. If Rahul genuinely feels for dalits he should not do things which appear to be an attempt to garner votes. He has to get more deeply involved over long term for the cause of dalit empowerment.
Campuses across the country are presently alive with Rohith’s issue. Dalit students and professors have emerged as a strong voice. For the first time in the history of our academic campuses there is assertion of dalit voice demanding justice for themselves. Like the protests in the aftermath of Nirbhaya’s incident, the present protests will result in creation of dignified space for dalit scholars on campuses. That will be the single most important contribution, even though unintended, of Rohith Vemula in his death. The upper caste dominated ruling elite will now be more careful with dalit scholars. Incidents of outright discrimination will be less frequent and there will even be attempt to assimilate dalit scholars in the mainstream in a manner similar to the attempted cooption of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by the ruling BJP government. But the dalits will have to be careful. The Hindutva ideology supports the caste system with its inbuilt hierarchy. It is opposed to the policy of reservation but for political expediency is going along with it. They are interested more in dalit votes rather than any real meaningful empowerment of the dalits.

Rohith had earlier written a letter to the VC suggesting that dalit students be given poison and a rope. This letter was ignored by the VC. If the VC had been a sensitive person he would have sensed the mood of Rohith and would have taken steps to ensure that such suicidal tendencies don’t persist in him. He should have invited Rohith and his friends for dialogue and listened to their grievances sympathetically and if possible should be redressed them in a timely manner. He let the matter prolong enough to create a feeling of despondency in Rohith. The VC quite clearly is guilty of abetting Rohith to take the final decision of ending his life.

Rohith was a bright student. He wanted to be a science fiction writer. He exhibited grit and was not the kind who would have ended his life easily. If he was forced to take the extreme step we can imagine how much humiliation he must have faced and also he must have been under undue pressure and would have found himself in a situation from which he did not see any redemption. It was the society around him which was responsible for his death. The university authorities had barred him and his four other friends from entering hostels, administrative building, public places and from contesting students’ union elections. He was made to feel an untouchable on campus. Like dalits in the society restrictions were imposed on him for entering some privileged spaces. He felt like an ostracized outcaste. The feeling must have been truely unbearable.
Minister, HRD, Smriti Irani has raised questions about Rohith’s dalit identity. Whatever may be Rohith’s identity the fact that he was associated with Ambedkar Students Association, and an association named after Dr. Ambedkar would usually represent the interests of dalit and other students facing caste based discrimination not just in Hyderabad but all across India, is sufficient to conclude that Rohith must have faced caste based discrimination. Actually, non-dalits are jealous of the fact that a dalit student was able to secure admission without using the caste quota. Hence, for the dalit students life is difficult if they use caste quota to get admission and there is no escape even if they secure admission without using the quota. In the former case the student has to bear from insinuations to caustic comments all the time and in the latter s(he) is viewed with suspicion, his/her capability always under question. This is the stinging caste system at work and it reminds us that even today there are Dronacharyas alive on campuses. Once it is discovered that a student is dalit, irrespective of whether s(he) uses quota or not to obtain admission life is made difficult for her/him.
However, it may be difficult to suppress the voice of dalit students now. Three of them raised slogans against Narendra Modi when he went to participate in the convocation programme of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow. Government’s handling of Rohith’s case is probably the beginning of downfall of Modi government. The other day there was brutal repression by police of a rally of Delhi students, to express solidarity with demands of ongoing protests in Hyderabad campus, which was headed towards the RSS headquarters. If the government thinks it can suppress the dalit voice like it does with others, it will be making its biggest mistake.
Rahul Gandhi went to support the fast going on in Hyderabad campus. Rahul Gandhi has earlier also shown sensitivity towards issues of dalit and other marginalised people. He would go and spend the night at some dalit household. However, after visiting several families before the 2017 UP assembly elections he discontinued this practice. If Rahul genuinely feels for dalits he should not do things which appear to be an attempt to garner votes. He has to get more deeply involved over long term for the cause of dalit empowerment.
Campuses across the country are presently alive with Rohith’s issue. Dalit students and professors have emerged as a strong voice. For the first time in the history of our academic campuses there is assertion of dalit voice demanding justice for themselves. Like the protests in the aftermath of Nirbhaya’s incident, the present protests will result in creation of dignified space for dalit scholars on campuses. That will be the single most important contribution, even though unintended, of Rohith Vemula in his death. The upper caste dominated ruling elite will now be more careful with dalit scholars. Incidents of outright discrimination will be less frequent and there will even be attempt to assimilate dalit scholars in the mainstream in a manner similar to the attempted cooption of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by the ruling BJP government. But the dalits will have to be careful. The Hindutva ideology supports the caste system with its inbuilt hierarchy. It is opposed to the policy of reservation but for political expediency is going along with it. They are interested more in dalit votes rather than any real meaningful empowerment of the dalits.

By Sandeep Pandey
Vice-President, Socialist Party (India)
A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016
Ph: 0522 2347365, M: 9415022772 (Arundhati Dhuru)
e-mail: ashaashram@yahoo.com

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