“Subtle Caste Discrimination”: Why A Studious Kabali Fan From JNU Committed Suicide

Posted by Abhishek Jha in Campus Watch
March 14, 2017

A day after the alleged suicide of a 27-year-old dalit student of JNU, students, activists, and the deceased’s relatives gathered at the AIIMS mortuary to demand a probe into the student’s death. Although the police said that a probe will be conducted, the students and activists asked assurance for a CBI probe and the registration of an FIR under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) before the post-mortem is conducted.

Had Been Feeling Alienated

DCP South Delhi district Ishwar Singh said on March 14 that the deceased student, Muthukrishnan Jeevanantham, appeared to have hanged himself using a blanket at a friend’s room on March 13. The reason for the alleged suicide is not known yet as no suicide note has been found. “We searched the room but no suicide note was found. We went to his hostel room but did not find anything there either. We will make forensic teams search the rooms again,” Singh said.

Muthukrishnan’s body was found hanging at the residence of Gomen Kim, a South Korean national. He was visiting his friends at their Munirka Vihar residence for lunch. Kim and two other students- Lakshyajeet and Issac- discovered the dead body at around 5 pm on March 13.

Rahul Sonpimple, a member of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student Association (BAPSA) and an acquaintance of the student, said on March 14 that he too had met Muthukrishnan for breakfast on March 13 but had not sensed any immediate trouble. He, however, added that the deceased student had been feeling “alienated” for about a month.

What Was Troubling Muthukrishnan?

“He said, ‘Anna, people laugh at me’. I asked, ‘Why do people laugh at you?’ He replied, ‘I don’t know why they laugh at me’. Though he addded, ‘Maybe because of my English’- references to English, his appearance, all these things,” Sonpimple said.

Sonpimple also said that dalit students, who are conscious and assertive, “feel alienated in the entire campus”. “Krish was very assertive, because he came from HCU and he was also part of the Rohith movement. He used to be with Prashanth Dontha. So he was not someone who would not speak. If you say something, he will speak. He will give you an answer. But I don’t know how they made him think that his English wasn’t good or that his appearance wasn’t good,” he said. He cited the Facebook posts by Muthukrishnan to say that he was also worried about “subtle caste discrimination” in JNU.

BAPSA in a statement has also alleged that the deceased M. Phil. scholar, who had secured admission to JNU’s M.Phil. programme at the Centre of Historical Studies after multiple attempts, was having trouble finding a supervisor for his M. Phil. dissertation. The statement alleges that professors Neeladri Bhattacharya and Burton Cleetus of the centre did not agree to supervising his dissertation. The JNU administration has not commented on the allegations yet.

Demands

“I want a fair probe into my son’s death. He is not the kind of person to commit suicide,” the scholar’s father Jeevanantham said on March 14. Students and activists demanded that two doctors nominated by them be present during the autopsy, that the autopsy be videographed, that a CBI probe be ordered into the death of the student, and that an FIR under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be filed.

“This is not the only incident or this is not the only university. This is a practice in all universities. Dalits are facing caste-based discrimination. A high level committee should be constituted with the dalit students. And according to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, a case should be filed against the professors who are practising this kind of caste-based discrimination,” Ramesh Nathan, General Secretary, National Dalit Movement for Justice- National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, told mediapersons at the mortuary.

“He Was Not The Kind Of Person To Commit Suicide”

Ambedkar Students Association of the University of Hyderabad, where Muthukrishnan was a student until 2016, held a condolence meeting at 6 pm on March 14 to “read and remember his writings and to offer condolences”. The JNU Administration too issued a statement expressing “shock and anguish” at the death of the student.

“He was a very good student in the sense that he worked very hard. And when he joined the M. Phil. course, he wanted to work on Demographic Changes in South India,” Professor B. Eswara Rao of University of Hyderabad’s Department of History told YKA. “He was okay. He was not the kind of person to commit suicide. I know him since his MA days,” he said expressing anguish over Muthukrishan’s death. “He was very active politically. But it was not like he was neglecting his studies,” he added.

Rahul Sonpimple of BAPSA too recalled Muthukrishnan as a studious scholar who was also politically conscious and active. Sonpimple, who ran for the post of president during last year’s elections to JNU’s Students Union, recalled that they had bonded over his references to the Rajinikanth starrer Kabali. “Once he called me Kabali and I too called him Kabali. So we used to interact in that manner. He would enact some dialogue in Tamil and he used to translate these things. Sometimes he would say, ‘Brother I have finished this book’. So I would say, ‘Okay, brother. You study well. You have come here after a lot of hard work, so do that. We had such kinds of conversation- sometimes fun, sometimes academic, sometimes political,” he said.

Condolence messages also kept pouring on Facebook for Muthukrishan, where he is known as Rajini Krish, after Rajinikanth. Parallels are also being drawn between his suicide and that of UoH Ph.D. scholar Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide in January last year, based on the JNU student’s final Facebook post dated March 10. The post ends with a criticism of the current situation in JNU. “There is no equality in M. Phil./PhD admission, there is no equality in viva voce, there is only denial of equality, denying prof. Sukhadeo Thorat recommendation, denying students protest places in Ad-Block, denying the education of the marginals. When equality is denied, everything is denied,” he wrote in the post.

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