On January 17th, 2016, Rohith Vemula, a Dalit Ph.D. scholar at Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Telangana, was found dead, hanging in his hostel room. A suicide note was also found. Apparently, Vemula, who was pursuing his Ph.D. from Hyderabad Central University, Telangana, committed suicide due to the cancellation of his scholarship and his subsequent suspension from the university. The suspension sparked off a clash between two groups of students, a Dalit students led group ‘Ambedkar Students Association (ASA)’ (of which Rohith was a member) and the Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The clash dates back to August last year, when the Dalit led students group raised their voices against the death penalty handed out to Yakub Memon (a convict in the 1993 bombings in Bombay) and also demanded a screening of the Nakul Shawney’s documentary, ‘Muzaffanagar Abhi Baaki Hai’ in the Delhi University Campus, an act that was subsequently seen as ‘Anti-Hindu’ and ‘Anti-National’. The students were expelled from the university in an undemocratic manner with five of them being denied access to their hostels, without any apparent reason. The students from the other political group (ABVP), on the other hand, got off scot free.
This particular incident is being considered as a revolt against the caste based structure that has been prevalent in India for centuries. In addition, the suicide of Rohith Vemula is being seen as an act of defiance against the authorities at the Hyderabad Central University and against the actions of the ABVP.
The involvement of political groups in the controversy is making the event a national one. Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal led, AAM Aadmi Party (AAP), has titled the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi as ‘DalitVidrohi’. Many political leaders like the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) supreme Mayawati and Sitaram Yetchuri of the Communist party of India (Marxist) have titled this incident of suicide as ‘institutional murder’.
It is true to say that there somewhere exists an institutional flaw related to this incident and in fact there must be a judicial probe into the situation. The ABVP has every right to raise objections over an issue (such as the one raised against the screening Muzaffarnagar or the Yakub Memon dialect), but at what cost? This cannot happen in a democracy like India where one strong political group (ABVP) can straightway neglect a dialect upon an issue which relates to crucial issues of the nation simply by titling them as ‘Anti-National’. In fact, Union leader Bandaru Dattareya has called the screening of Nakul Sawhney’s, ‘Muzaffarnagar Abhi Baaki Hai’ as ‘Anti-Hindu’ (the Union Minister must have realized that screening the movie was just meant to make a dialect with the general masses, which relates to an incident where State clearly failed to take care of the interests of one major part of its population, i.e., the Muslims’).
This could well be an example of ‘intolerant India’, where the political groups in power are not allowing a dialect within the public sphere. Whether it is the screening of the documentary or the protests raised against the execution of Yakub Memon, one cannot deny the dialect. If denied, it will result in the violation of freedom of speech and expression.
Union Minister, Bandaru Dattareya, and the Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad University, has been booked under the SC/ST Act too. Most of the political parties are seeking the Government to come up with answers and sack all those who are responsible for the death of the student. The prestigious Osmania University of Hyderabad, which performed a major role in the Telangana movement, is also extending its support to the ASA group as a protest against the acts of the ABVP and the university officials. P.L Punia, Chairman of the SC/ST commission has condoled the students by saying that there will be justice with respect to the incidence and also said, ‘Through the media we got to know that Dalit scholars and the students associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarti Parishad (ABVP) had a fight following which the university made a one-sided decision against the Dalit students. They were staging a protest since then and last night one of them committed suicide.’
The incidence is not just a private one, it has spread throughout the national media. But in the name of support towards the cause and the case of Dalit students, political parties will gain political advantages by being a political part of this incidence. Instead of politicizing this issue further, people must realize that we have to become more rational in deciding about people’s lives, allowing them to raise their voices and have a dialect. An act of suppression by the powerful will eventually result in something which is undesirable. Even in his letter, Rohith Vemula, has mentioned in the end that ‘…I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for 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’.
Even as he was about to die, he wrote in a pretty sarcastic manner by saying ‘I forgot the formalities’ and has also made a valid point that his death must not be targeted against someone, but still, it must be an eye opener for everyone in this Nation. It should be kept in mind that such an attempt not only concerns the person’s life but affects all those who are connected to him/her. A series of event led to the 26 year old Ph.D. scholar to take such a step. These series of steps have been titled as a case of ‘institutional murder’ by some political groups. Various news articles and students from ASA call his death as a symbol of protest and spark to fuel a revolt, so that such other such incidents do not happen in the future. If two groups were fighting with each other, then both the groups should have been brought under the lens, but in this case the powerful group got off scot free. Some have demanded the resignation of the Vice Chancellor of the Hyderabad Central University and in response the Government has been coming up with their defense. What is needed right now, is to have a sense of responsibility towards our own people (whether it be a Dalit or a Brahmin’). And instead of politicizing such incidences, people must come forward and raise their voices (though not politicizing such incidences especially based on castes, remains a utopian thought). People will politicize such events whenever it will happen. But the problem remains intact, such issues once politicized keep roaming within the circles of politics, thus becoming puppets in the hands of the political groups. If political groups raise their voices for the genuine cause that such biased incidence do not happen in future, then it would mean a better future with a better scope for the nation.