My birth was my immortal accident. I was born white with skin made of smooth polyester. They put me through 250 degrees of fire to bake me in a deep blue with white writing. I was cut and stitched. The face of a man adorned my centre. A man who would orchestrate my destiny. A man who had permeated me deeper than the blue that I was baked in. A man called Ambedkar, and I was the standard for the Ambedkar Students’ Association.
It was a trial by fire from the start. I was first unfurled in a protest against the death penalty. The Ambedkar Students’ Association believed in the sanctity of life, whoever the condemned. That’s where I saw him, a young PhD scholar with gorgeous locks and a killer smile. His eyes glinted of an imagination far beyond the realms of this world. Sparkled of a billion galaxies and bedazzling stars. His beautiful skin glowed in the heat of the Hyderabad sun, he picked me up and brandished me in the wind. I felt free, fluttering in the gaze of the throbbing masses below. Dancing to the chants of Jai Bhims and glittering in the gaze of the midday sun. Most entrancingly I was fastened to the mast that touched his hands. For me, that was reason enough to feel alive. I had arrived. I had begun.
Of all his meagre possessions, I was his favourite. He had given me pride of place above his belongings as he hoisted me to the ceiling. I would gently sway to the breeze now and again watching the scholar as he studied, daydreamed, whispered of revolution and transfixed on the enigmas of science. Here was a fine young man who idolised the giants of science fiction like Carl Sagan and the colossal crusader against the caste system, Ambedkar.
But I would relish being released in the open. Battling my fascist and casteist saffron nemesis on behalf of the condemned and dispossessed. The battle was between nature and human, the injustices piled on by humans over their own species under the auspices of an unnatural caste order. I knew I was in the right as the blues sang of social justice and compassion. The saffron of cruelty and status. These beasts were divorced from nature, devoid of empathy, enraptured by power. I was in the company of love and love obliterates all.
“My birth is my fatal accident; I can never recover from my childhood loneliness; the unappreciated child from my past,” lamented the young scholar. I didn’t know what drove him to such melancholy but slowly learned. His story predates his birth as is often the case with such stories. Once upon a time, his mother was the daughter of impoverished migrant labourers toiling on a railway track. Hailing from a Dalit caste and being a girl conferred the triple disadvantage of caste, poverty and gender on the one-year-old. A non-Dalit woman who owned a house adjoining the tracks had just lost her baby, and the one-year-old offered a ready substitution to fill her void.
She offered to adopt the child which the migrant couple accepted. In a Moses-like tale, they parted with their child wishing a better life for her than the one they could offer in their caste’s trap. Thus, Radhika entered the house of Anjani Devi as a daughter and a domestic. The only consolation was being fed and not playing near the tracks waiting for train death. Devi thought it wise to marry Radhika off as a child bride to a man from Devi’s own non-Dalit caste.
But who marries a Dalit girl? The true power of caste comes alive in marriage halls. How many inter-caste celebrations do you see? One occasionally sees inter-caste unions but usually sliced in ponds of blood by their own honourable families. Caste is water-tight, air-tight and separated by an untraversable ocean of hate. Love tries an audacious attempt to leap across the tracks but is rammed into by the Vedic train that leaves dismembered bodies in its wake. So Radhika was passed off as a non-Dalit and married off at 14 to an alcoholic, schizophrenic wife-beater. It is possible that an equally grim fate would have awaited Radhika had she never been adopted, but at least her caste status would’ve been clearly advertised to potential suitors.
But beggars can’t be choosers and Dalits can’t be dreamers. Three children were born out of the abuse before the alcoholic schizophrenic wife-beater discovered that he’d been cheated and that Radhika was Dalit and adopted. You can see the evil in a man’s heart by what unleashes his fury. The violence exploded and believe it or not, even Dalits have a limit. Radhika left him and returned to Devi’s house. She resumed her role as the servant daughter pressing her children into servitude. Our scholar hated this as it continued even after the family moved out. The price for being adopted in an upper caste house was intended to be inherited.
Caste never leaves you. Leaving the smaller Guntur district of his birth to the bright lights of Hyderabad introduced the scholar to institutional casteism known by the name of Hyderabad Central University. Enough was enough, and the Ambedkar Students Association teamed with the innumerable Dalits united in the biggest fight of them all. The caste monster had hollowed them from birth, and here they were confronted with the fascist gangs of caste’s gatekeepers. Throwing himself into the fight, he brought me into the open to battle-cries of Educate, Organise, Agitate. This is the Ambedkar chant, and it threatened their world.
But what can you do when your University’s vice-chancellor is part of that gang? What can you do when your Union Minister is fascist to his core? What can you do when your Minister for Human Resource Development is anti-human? You see your fellowship stopped; you are falsely accused of manhandling their fellow fascist. The last straw comes when you are thrown out of your hostel. Welcome to your caste’s roadside abode. How can the progeny of Dalit migrant labourers study for a PhD? The caste system corrects itself on the backs of Dalits and swallows them whole like a voracious python crushing its devoured prey. “Please give us poison at the time of admission itself instead of humiliating us like this,” he had once written in his letter to the vice-chancellor alongside a request for a good rope for Dalit students.
He gathered his things, clutched his Ambedkar poster and draped me over his paltry belongings. We lived in a tent amidst hunger strikes and weakening spirit. None of the powers retracted from their casteist stances. Not the Vice-Chancellor, not the Union Minister, not the Minister for Human Resource Development. Like partners in a planned genocide, they waited for the standoff to start claiming lives. Like vultures waiting on starving children. He picked me up and walked to his friend’s room. Sat at a table and scribbled something.
He then tied me to the ceiling fan and noosed the other end, slipped his neck through it and kicked his legs free. I gave Rohith Vemula a swift ending. I quickly snapped his neck instead of tightening my grip and making him suffer in suffocation. Caste had already strangled him enough. He was a man that belonged to the stars. Not the shadows of the indelible blot of caste on this world. He was beyond that. He was stardust.
Someone burst in and screamed. They cut me to free him, and the political battle over his death instantly ensued with earnest. I wasn’t bothered about that. I was touched by death. I was touched by caste. I was touched by the words he had scribbled. “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.” Please stitch me. Please make me whole again. Please raise me. Please fly me. I want to destroy their hegemony. I want to burn their dominion. I want to explode their hierarchy. I want to raze their arrogance. I want to stab their system and drain the gushing tar. Or else bundle his body and make me his shroud so I can travel to the stars far from your bigotry and dogma.
No, that’s too easy. Let’s fight this. Let’s finish this. Let’s avenge this. The world deserves to know their wretched practices. How the nation’s tyrant conferred the ‘Millenium Plaque of Honour’ to his killer.
You deserve to live as inferior to none. Why should you die? Why should you compromise? Why should you suffer? This world is as yours as it is theirs. Take a leaf from the book of the brave Sunkanna Velpula who refused to accept his award from that killer of Rohith’s.
They have perfected their wicked arts for thousands of years but no more in the age of Ambedkar. He exposed their designs, and now it is too little too late to renege to Vedic times. Our late scholar’s mother, Radhika and brother Raja, sought ultimate revenge by ditching Hinduism for Buddhism on Ambedkar’s 125th Birth Anniversary. Here, we kick your religion itself. Enough is enough.
Information is shared in an instant, atrocities are reported from all corners of the land, the world is up in arms at their savagery. The moment is now, the iron is hot, the blood is fresh. We can overturn their schemes, and Ambedkar is our weapon. Educate, Agitate, Organise under my stitched flutter and the scholar didn’t die in vain. The revolution is upon us and will be fought in the mind, in the heart and on the ground. We will leave a trail of freed multitudes and not corpses in our wake. We will live, we will fight, we will free. We have arrived, we have begun.