By Students of Indian Law Institute:
To say that the death of Rohith Vemula has come as a shock to us does not quite capture how we are trying to process this news. It has had a numbing, almost traumatic effect that is difficult to articulate.
It is not just that a promising PhD scholar has committed suicide in a prominent institution of higher education. Or that Rohith was a victim of harassment by his own university’s administration. Or that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development was probably complicit in the harassment. Or that Rohith was a bright, prominent and active voice in a time when students are becoming increasingly passive and apolitical. Or that Rohith belonged to an organization named after the foremost icon of anti-caste movement. Or that Rohith was a Dalit.
It is all that, yes, but it is also something more. It is the fact that we pride ourselves for belonging to a generation that has finally risen above caste and what many of us consider to be the petty Mandal-Mandir-Masjid politics of the past. Our mantra is supposed to be development and technology and start-ups, and caste is supposed to be so irrelevant that it doesn’t even need to be discussed. In fact, the consensus seems to be that it shouldn’t be discussed.
And yet Rohith Vemula committed suicide in Hyderabad Central University, a city that is considered an IT hub. The truly unfortunate reality is that what Rohith faced was not a one-off aberration. Institutionalized discrimination is a reality that we all know about but choose not to acknowledge. No one knows this better than Dalit students asserting their voice in campuses across India.
But the more regrettable fact is that in the frenzy to colorize any issue, the hidden underlying message always gets side-tracked. Maybe Rohith was depressed, maybe he had some other personal problems which motivated him to take this extreme step, maybe it was a political move. A thousand maybes more and a bundle of speculations later, the actual problem at hand gets lost in the maze of maybes and what ifs; the institutional caste discrimination.
In a multitude of questions and nuances, we find it convenient to turn a blind eye to the Thakur-vaad, the Brahmin-vaad, the Yadav-vaad and the plethora of other vaads. Some factions are promoted other factions are termed anti-nationalist. From the appointment and promotions of teachers to the student council politics, the poisonous weeds are visible. But we don’t prune them rather we water them and nurture them.
Long ago a boy was forced to sit on the floor while his upper caste classmates sat on chairs and together they were educated. We claimed that we had overcome that physical untouchability, at least in urban areas, at least in educational institutions. But we were wrong. The vestiges of the ancient aversion are still thick in our blood, even in the most emphatically declared intelligentsia.
This bitter turn of events is nothing but our rather pathological aversion from uncomfortable topics. The whole debate around the death of a human is the example how well we beat around the bush and then beat each other but let the bush remain intact. With a hope to address the more pressing issue of discrimination at hand we hope that while Rohith may finally rest in peace, his death may continue to stir the nest of caste discrimination infestations.
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