Editor’s Note: On August 7, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech at Hyderabad, criticising the cow protectors who attacked Dalits in his hometown of Gujarat, where he said, “What is the reason we torture our Dalit brothers? What right do you have? The section which has suffered for centuries, will you force them to suffer more?… Attack me, shoot me, not Dalits.” Responding to the speech, Dontha Prashanth, Vijay Pedapudi and Seshaiah Chemudugunta, Dalit Research Scholars at the University Of Hyderabad, who were socially boycotted at the university along with Rohith Vemula, wrote an open letter, condemning Modi’s hypocrisy and dishonesty towards the nation.
Respected Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi,
We, Dontha Prashanth, Vijay Pedapudi and Seshaiah Chemudugunta, are Dalit Research Scholars from University of Hyderabad belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) who were socially boycotted along with Rohith Vemula who was forced to commit suicide due to the constant humiliation and harassment by ABVP, BJP and the men in the University doing their bidding, namely Vice Chancellor Podile Apparao, Chief Proctor Alok Pandey and certain politically motivated members of executive council of University of Hyderabad.
We heard with disbelief, and a bit of amusement, the speech that you delivered on 07/08/2016 at Hyderabad where you condemned cow protectors who attacked Dalits in your home state of Gujarat and said: “What is the reason we torture our Dalit brothers? What right do you have? The section which has suffered for centuries, will you force them to suffer more? Be wary of ‘nakli’ (fake) gau rakshaks, they have nothing to do with cow. Governments should crack down on them.” Addressing these ‘nakli’ cow protectors, you even went to the extent of saying, “Attack me, shoot me, not Dalits.”
We find it ironic that you chose to say these words a few kilometres from where fake cow-protectors and fake nationalists from your party forced a brilliant Dalit scholar to take his own life. Despite the passion with which you delivered it, your latest speech is as dishonest as the one that you were forced to deliver at the Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow on 22nd January 2016, a week after our brother Rohith Vemula was martyred.
Like your latest speech, on that occasion too you were forced to speak because people across the country and world were criticising you, your government and the merciless ideology of your right wing party. Such was the public pressure on you, that despite your own party colleagues calling us anti-national, you were forced to hail Shaheed Rohith Vemula as a gem of this nation. You said, “iss desh ki ek navjawaan bête Rohith ko aatmahatya karne ki majboor hona pada, uske pariwaar par kyaa biti hui, maa bharti ne apna ek laal khoya, kaaran apni jagaah par onge, raajniti apni jagaah par hoga ….Babasaheb Ambedkar ki jo sapne hein un sapnon ko poora karne kaa hamaara abhirath prayaas ho” We were initially relieved when you decided to break your silence on the death of our comrade.
There suddenly seemed to be hope that something drastic would happen. But what followed was a massive slander campaign by your BJP colleagues, threats by your street-level supporters and brazen atrocities by the police. That you and your government once again went silent, has convinced us that we should not get too carried away with the Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation, no matter how passionately they are made. Mr. Prime Minister, Ministers in your own cabinet such as Sushma Swaraj and Thawarchand Gehlot started the rumour campaign that Rohith was not a Dalit. Another Union Minister V.K. Singh called Rohith Vemula, and all of us in the ASA, anti-national. Such a campaign had been on ever since the martyrdom of Rohith Vemula who wrote in his brilliant farewell note: “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 every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”
After death, his identity as a Dalit or OBC became prime importance for your party and politics. It is noteworthy that you were praising Babasaheb Dr. B.R.Ambedkar on his 125th Birth Anniversary in Delhi. But here in Hyderabad, when we Dalit research scholars started quoting from the writings of Babasaheb Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, we were branded as anti-nationals by Bandaru Dattatreya, a minister in your own cabinet. No action was taken against him. When we organised 125th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Babasaheb Dr.B.R.Ambedkar with Hon’ble Prakash Ambedkar, Grandson of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar as Chief Guest, he was prevented at the main gate of the university under the instruction of Podile Apparao, Vice-Chancellor, UoH.
We think it is time, you accepted that the focus of your speeches is never to encourage the delivery of justice. If it was so, Rohith Vemula, his mother Radhika Vemula and the four other Dalit Research Scholars, who were targeted by the casteist University management, should have got justice by now. If the words of the Prime Minister are disowned by the ministers in cabinet what trust can there be in the government? If words are not translated into actions, what is the value of those words in itself? What when the ministers in the government stand with casteist murderers such as Union Minister for Urban Development Shri. M. Venkaiah Naidu who standing behind his kinsman Podile Apparao?
The same cold-blooded Apparao who did not even respond to the letter Rohith Vemula wrote to him on 18th December 2015, exactly a month before he committed suicide. In that letter, Rohith Vemula clearly wrote: “First, let me praise your dedicated take on the self-respecting movement of Dalits in the campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary. 5 Dalit students are socially boycotted from campus spaces”. Rohith then wrote something that would have alarmed anybody with basic human sentiments: “1) Please serve 10 mg of sodium azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission with direction to use whenever they feel like reading Ambedkar 2) Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students from your companion, the great chief warden” and continued: “We, the research scholars, have already passed that stage and already part of Dalit self-respect movement, unfortunately, we here are left with no easy exit it seems. Hence I request your highness to make preparations for the facility ‘Euthanasia’ for students like me. And I wish you and your campus rest in peace forever.”
Make no mistake, as far as the law is concerned, Podile Apparao is an accused in crime.no.20/2016 under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and abetment to suicide for the constant humiliation and harassment of Five Dalit Research Scholars including Rohith Vemula. How can we Dalits dream of justice when Apparao enjoys the backing of a powerful caste leader like Venkaiah Naidu? Did all these things not cross your mind when you made your speech in Hyderabad this week where you told BJP workers, “War karna hein toh mujh pe keejiye, goali chalana hein toh mujh pe keejiye, mere Dalit bhaiyon pe math keejiye.” What happened in the case of Rohith Vemula and four of us was that the entire government machinery waged a war against Five Dalit Research Scholars and is still waging a war for speaking about Babasaheb Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. When the whole government machinery wants to wage a war against Dalits where can we get justice? Maybe you should say it to your own cabinet colleagues, “War karna hein toh mujh pe keejiye, goali chalana hein toh mujh pe keejiye, mere Dalit bhaiyon pe math keejiye.”
We are still staying at the same University where Rohith Vemula lived, fought and died. Podile Apparao is still the Vice-Chancellor of the University. His continuation in the same post, despite the murder allegations, is creating a much more dangerous situation for our survival at the University of Hyderabad. When Rohith Vemula died you said that “maa bharti ne ek laal khoya”. We don’t know what you mean but for us “maa bharati” is Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula, the hard working Dalit woman who brought up her children with her hard earned income despite facing caste discrimination. That “maa bharati” is still fighting for her justice. She was prevented thrice from entering the University of Hyderabad by the same Vice Chancellor who was responsible for her son’s suicide and the harassment of us. She gets pushed around and disrespected by the police during protests.
But Apparao Podile roams around with armed security guards. Recently, the District Magistrate of Guntur had submitted a report stating that Rohith Vemula was a Dalit (SC-Mala), and the same has been acknowledged by National Commission for Scheduled Castes. But the culprits are left scot-free instead of getting arrested, having left off, they are committing more atrocities. What action was taken after a committee appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development brought out the institutional lapses that led to Rohith’s suicide? Why did you not speak, Mr. Prime Minister, when Smriti Irani spoke utter lies in Parliament? What action was taken when cabinet minIster Bandaru Dattatreya branded Ambedkarites as anti-nationals and influenced MHRD to write five letters putting pressure on the university management to take action against Ambedkarites? What happened to the Judicial Commission appointed by MHRD which was supposed to submit its report by August 1, 2016?
Mr Prime Minister, the situation here in the university has become worse than before. It has become worse than the Cherlapally Central jail where our students and faculty were imprisoned on false charges. The situation is grave. Professor. V. Krishna, an able administrator – who started reforms in admissions leading to the increased intake of marginalized sections – resigned from his position as Controller of Examinations; Dr. Sreepathi Ramudu resigned from his post as Head, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy; Several SC/ST faculties tendered resignation to their administrative positions. Dr.K.Y.Ratnam, Head, Centre for Ambedkar Studies has been targetted by Podile Apparao and was also sent to jail on false charges along with another faculty Dr.Tathagat Sen Gupta and 25 students. The forum of SC/ST faculty has even submitted representations for removal of Podile Apparao as Vice-Chancellor. Next time, when you tell your followers to wage a war against you and not against Dalits, please remember that a war is already on in which followers of your ideology are leading the casteist attack on Dalits. Remember, that a “maa Bharati” is still fighting like a tigress to snatch justice from the jaws of your cruel government.
For better or worse, you are still the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country, Mr. Modi and not the representative of a group of narrow-minded criminals. We promise you that in the coming days, the social conditions in this country will make it impossible for your followers to continue with their divisive project. Remember that the war that your followers have unleashed on the weakest people in this country will take us all to the path of doom. Before that happens, we hope good sense will prevail at the PMO and efforts will be made to deliver justice to Rohith Vemula’s family and the Five Dalit Research Scholars who were socially boycotted by the casteist Vice-Chancellor Podile Apparao along with other political functionaries belonging to your party.
In their desperation to appropriate the legacy of Babasaheb Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, your colleagues have twisted many of his statements to suit your ideology. We would like to leave you with an authentic quote from Ambedkar’s speeches in the Constituent assembly: “How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.”
Dontha Prashanth (Ph.D Economics)
Vijay Pedapudi (Ph.D Political Science)
Seshaiah Chemudugunta (Ph.D Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy)