On the 17th of January 2016, a Dalit research scholar of Hyderabad Central University committed suicide, his letter making quite clear that he was driven to death because he was a Dalit. This is the reality of ‘developing’ India, ’skill’ India, ‘powerful’ India in the sixty ninth year of self rule. This is the real India- and it cries for new democratic revolution.
PhD scholar in Humanities and with a Master’s Degree in Science, Rohitha Vemula stated in his suicide note that he aspired to be a ‘science writer’. He was an activist in the Ambedkar Students Association(ASA) and in that capacity had his brush with the casteist and communal Hindutva forces. On the 3rd of August 2015, he and 4 other Dalit students were accused of beating up the President of the ABVP unit of the University. The issues involved a prayer meeting against the capital punishment to Yakub Memon and a screening of a documentary against the Muzaffarnagar violence which was prevented by ABVP members. ABVP leader Sushil Kumar posted comments against the ASA and students of ASA went to demand an apology from him. The same evening Kumar was admitted to a private hospital for acute appendicitis. A Proctoral enquiry submitted a report on 12th August saying that there was no evidence of Kumar being beaten and severely reprimanded the ABVP leader and 5 dalit students including Rohitha. The ABVP leader approached Central Labour Minister and BJP MP from Telengana, Dattatreya. On 17th August, the Labour Minister wrote to HRD Central Minister Smiti Irani for action against the ‘anti-national’ students. The HRD Minister not only sent the letter to the VC of Hyderabad University, but followed it up with four reminders for action. On 31st August 2015 the Continued Proctoral Enquiry (obviously under the pressure of Union HRD Ministry) recommended suspension of the five dalit students and of course, no action against the ABVP leader. The ASA protested. The five were subsequently barred from all the public spaces within the campus including the hostel and were camping outside the gates of the University since 21st December 2015. On 17th January the students decided to intensify their protest with a hunger strike and the same evening Rohitha committed suicide.
The entire episode raises so many disturbing questions. At the start is the deep hatred of upper caste elements against Dalits who make their way into institutions of higher learning. Second is the continual interference of the Modi Govt. in institutions of higher learning. HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s campaign to communalize and commercialize these is also against Dalit activists and organizations- another case in point being of the Ambedkar Periyar Circle of IIT Madras against which too she had demanded action. Ms. Smriti Irani has been quite useful to RSS to impose its Hindu communal and upper caste vision on the academic institutions. Apart from this the BJP Govt. is going all out to open the doors even wider to foreign universities for commercial exploitation. As is inevitable, the leaders of the Hindutva organizations are also displaying their upper caste biases and hatred for Dalits. The RSS Supremo wants a relook at Reservations, there are the responses of Central Minister V.K. Singh and Haryana’s BJP Chief Minister to the burning alive of two dalit toddlers in Faridabad and the Prime Minister’s total lack of action against these representatives of his Govt. Modi, who talks of everything, has not found the need to utter a word of regret for Rohitha’s suicide.
This brings up another issue raised by the suicide note. Rohitha had not received his fellowship for the past seven months, amounting to an arrear of over a lakh and a half. The terrible odds that Dalit students who are first generation learners beat to get into institutions of higher learning, their dependence, their levels of intelligence which allows them to make the grade against all odds is mocked at by state institutions. Besides discrimination against them, cases of deliberate failing of Dalit students in professional institutions are quite frequent and no attention is paid to them nor steps taken to prevent their recurrence. Tales are pouring out in the daily papers of how Dalit students are facing hostility, casteism, academic discrimination in institutions of learning.
The Vice Chancellor, head of an Institution of learning, refused to even meet the five suspended students- perhaps he had no explanation for his own cowardice. Heads of institutions are appointed for subservience to authority and for having correct castes and religions; not for the spirit of fostering Enquiry that true academic ability brings. It was the height of pandering to powers that be that a large number of heads of academic institutions of the Govt. had gone to RSS headquarters in Delhi to meet the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat.
To purge this country of the ghost of Eklavya, of centuries of untouchability, caste discrimination and hostility, the lamp of learning is not enough. Further powerful forces dominating the state do everything to extinguish this. To remove the base for caste oppression and discrimination, revolutionary transformation of society is needed.
Let us together ensure that the casteist and communal Ministers and the Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University who are jointly responsible for the overtly casteist action against the five students and directly guilty of forcing Rohitha to take his life be removed from office, arrested and punished.
Students and youth, progressive and democratic forces and organizations, Rise to demand punishment to perpetrators of this ghastly crime. Join the struggle for end to caste oppression and discrimination. Launch vigorous campaign to rid society of this poison.