Rohith Vemula: Victim of inhuman, casteist system in a modern university. How many more lives will be taken?

Screen shot 2016-01-18 at 10.23.52 AMBy Prasad Chacko*

No words can express the rage and pain that we all feel at the shocking forced suicide of a young Dalit scholar (doing his Ph.D in Science and Technology) from the University of Hyderabad (UoH), Rohith Vemula. Rohith and his comrades were activists of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) and have been leading the intellectual and activist responses to contemporary issues. It is interesting to note that Rohit and ASA were in the forefront of organizing events that exposed Hindutva politics such as the filming of “Muzzaffarnagar Baki Hai” and opposing the manner in which Yakub Memon was hanged without permitting him to exhaust all possible legal recourse.

The ABVP, BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been behind ensuring the suspension of these students who are activists belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association. Following a scuffle with the ABVP on the campus, the casteist, brahminical University administration had unjustly suspended 5 Dalit research scholars and later evicted them from the hostels. This action followed a complaint written by the BJP MLA of the region and union minister Bandaru Dattatreya to the MHRD minister Smriti Irani alleging that ASA was engaging in antinational activities on the UoH campus, with the UoH administration taking no action at all. This was followed by repeated letters written by MHRD Smriti Irani enquiring into the ‘antinational activities’ on the UoH campus. BJP Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, now one of the main culprits in Rohith Vemula‘s suicide case, was scared of the alliance of Dalits and Muslims in Hyderabad University against Hindutva politics, and did everything to break it. It is interesting to note that in a letter to the MHRD minister Smriti Irani, the minister Bandaru Dattatreya indicates.

A handwritten letter of Rohith to the VC of UoH shows the helplessness and frustration he and others faced; he decided not to write any of these issues in his suicide note; but he clearly indicates that the easy ‘solution’ to the Dalit issue on campus was to give them tranquilizers when they felt like reading Ambedkar, and ropes to commit suicide.

A large number of students have been sleeping out in the open with the 5 suspended students in solidarity with them, since over a fortnight. Their slogan was “We are more than Five”. One more event that reminds us of the casteist uncivilized barbaric sections of the dominant sections of society that hold power in our country. They are anti national, inhuman and terrorists. We unequivocally condemn the barbaric unjust decision of the university under political pressure from the BJP and the Sangh. But also a protest of solidarity by students that continue to inspire us, in these times of hopelessness.

Today afternoon the brave students from across Delhi demonstrated in front of the MHRD in solidarity with Rohit and ASA. A shameless administration, with no moral courage to dialogue with the protesting students, had no way but to use water cannons against them.

This is a reminder of the times we are living in. It is also a reminder to those well-meaning professors and staff in universities/colleges that it is very important to create an environment in the campus where students can speak out and be active politically; not an environment that is ‘depoliticised’ which is actually a euphemism for a campus acquiescing with fascist forces. The students have to be encouraged to be in the forefront of the intellectual discourse against fascist, regressive, ruling dispensation. This is possible only if we pro-actively encourage dissent, active protests, culture of debate and freedom of speech on our campuses. Also, from a human point of view, the campus should have outlets for students to vent their anger, frustration and pain against the discrimination they face in everyday life.

A note written by Rohith is attached below for all of us to read. It reflects the pain and depression a young scholar goes through in a society, a university where all odds are against Dalit students, but avoids taking out anger or bitterness against even his ‘enemies’.

Rohith Vemula’s last message

I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.

The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.

I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse.

My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.

Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.

‘From shadows to the stars.’

Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.

To ASA [Ambedkar Students Association] family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.

For one last time,

Jai Bheem

I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself.

No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act.

This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this.

Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone.

*Director, Human Development and Research Centre, Ahmedabad 

References:

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