By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
In a historic development, the issues of caste and class came together yesterday at a rally organised to mark the suicide of Rohith Vemula and protest the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president, apart from sedition charges slapped on five other students.
Around 5000 people attended the rally, according to rough estimates.
Participants in the rally said that although the intent to bring together the two issues was laudable, it was far from merged and needed to be worked out better. Shehla Rashid from JNU and Prakash Ambedkar mentioned in their speeches the need for unity between the two movements.
The rally saw several organisations participating, and raising slogans on their own, thus making it somewhat “chaotic”, according to several protesters I spoke to. Initially, when the protesters reached Jantar Mantar, announcements were made that the blue flags – symbolising Dalit pride and unity – needed to be respected better.
In terms of speeches too, it was only Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal among the politicians who seemed to hit the right spots. Others like Brinda Karat of the CPM, D. Raja of the CPI and Rahul Gandhi spoke before the Delhi CM but were unable to rouse the students. According to Ajay, one of the protesters, that could have been because the crowd was already well-aware of what was at stake and quite dedicated which made the speeches a matter of “preaching to the converted.”
In his speech, the Delhi CM took clear aim at the central government. “No one’s acche din ( good days) are here but bure din (bad days) for women, minority, Dalits, students, have arrived one by one,” he said to a thunderous applause.
The gathering was also addressed by the mother of Rohith, who demanded that the Rohith Act to stop victimisation of Dalits students should be put in place.
The rally saw the unique spectacle of a collective of performance artists registering their concerns using their bodies. Chimuk, one of the three artists from the collective told me that the “body was the highest form of politics on which to visualise (the impact) of everyday politics.” Covering his face entirely with a silvery material which heated up quickly before cooling down on its own, he told me that “this was an attempt to understand the pain (of the protesters)”, and that this also represented the highs and lows of a movement. Chimuk also told me that people associated with various struggles and movements needed to communicate better amongst themselves. “Yesterday, my friends went to Chhattisgarh Bhavan to protest (the attack on Soni Sori) but they did not get enough support. This means the communication is not adequate.”
Nevertheless, a popular opinion among the protesters was that the arrest of Kanhaiya and subsequent developments had united the Left and even created conditions for a possible revival of its past glory.
The Amberdkarite movement also seemed to have received a new impetus and writings of Ambedkar and even t-shirts were on sale at the rally.
Vishal Sherwal from Bahujan Unnati Book Centre, a shop that had been operational in Shahdara for the last three years, had a stall at Jantar Mantar selling Ambedkarite literature. He told me that he had set up a stall at Gwalior also where a JNU professor from the sociology department was shot at. “The RSS people vandalised our shop too. Three- four people from our team were injured,” Sherwal told me. He added that he had a government job and volunteered at the book-shop on weekends. “The response (from the reading public) has been very good, across the country.”
Asked about the impact of Vemula’s suicide, he told me, “he slept off himself but woke up others.” Sherwal added that even all the collected works of Ambedkar had not been put in print yet. “The day that happens, Brahminism would be demolished. Real revolution would take place that day.”
Photographs by: Tanushree Bhasin.