When the country was celebrating Holi this year, a research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) ended his life by hanging himself at his friend’s place in Munirka. The place where this happened isn’t even 100 metres away from the university.
The exact reasons for this unfortunate incident are still unknown. However, it is speculated that this suicide was a result of severe discrimination and harassment in the university. On the other hand, people have also said that the scholar was facing ‘family problems’, and was, apparently, a victim of a ‘failed love affair’.
Muthukrishnan’s suicide is not the first incident where a student from a marginalised section has committed suicide after being harassed at a premier institute of India. Numerous Dalit students have committed suicide over the last decade. The University of Hyderabad (in which Muthukrishnan studied previously) is one of the premier universities of the country, and has witnessed at least eight Dalit student suicides in the last ten years.
However, Muthukrishnan’s suicide is different from the other instances, because of what happened after his suicide.
Unlike the case of Rohith Vemula, which had rocked the nation, the suicide of Muthukrishnan has been followed mostly by silence. The so-called ‘fighters of social justice’, who were on the streets following the suicide at HCU, have allegedly been shielding the probable culprits behind this incident.
These organisations have ignored the issues of discrimination and exploitation at the Centre of Historical Studies, JNU, and have limited themselves to a ‘ritualistic protest’. They have pointed their fingers at financial issues and allegedly blamed RSS, BJP and almost everyone else. However, they have conveniently turned a blind eye towards the role played by the faculties and the discriminatory administrative setup in Indian universities.
Muthukrishnan stands out due to the exemplary courage which he showed. He gain admission to JNU on his sixth attempt. It took him a further 38 attempts to get his research proposal approved – not because he was lacking in arguments, but apparently because his English writing were repeatedly questioned. This discrimination apparently went on even when he approached multiple professors with his proposal.
The suicide of Muthukrishnan points out the structural problems in Indian universities. Whatever may have been the case here, the hard-hitting reality is that our universities foster environments which make it difficult for a student of a marginalised community to survive.
For those who think that Muthukrishnan’s case was a result of economic problems, or that of a student finding that his services are not valued in a neo-liberal economy, I would like to remind that Balmukund Bharati, who hanged himself in his hostel room on March 3, 2010 was a final-year MBBS student at AIIMS. So, we need to understand that the blame cannot be shifted to something ‘outside’ the university campuses – something which does not fall into the purview of the university structure and administration. After all, Muthukrishnan was studying in a centre which had allegedly awarded the tag of ‘intellectual’ to those very students who had allegedly perpetrated violence on February 9, 2016.
The condition of higher education in India looks bleak indeed. Degrees and diplomas are no longer indicative of a student’s performance. It is time to unmask the true nature of India’s education system. We should understand how grades, seminars, conferences and jobs are being given mostly on the basis of something akin to a ‘patron-client relationship’, which provides no space for an ‘outsider’.
My words aren’t new. They have been repeated several times. After every student suicide, a number of interpretations surface. But, the tragedy is that the situation remains the same. The name of the victim changes, the place changes, the university changes, lives are lost – but neither the exploitation nor the discrimination stops!
From now on, we have to ensure that the tragic deaths of courageous, hard-working scholars like Muthukrishnan do not go in vain. For the sake of my comrades, I would like to quote Marx here: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
This change cannot be brought about by mute spectators. It cannot be brought about by condolences. The change will come only when we muster the courage to recognise and speak up against the real culprits, and fight for justice, wholeheartedly. The change will come when the student community, divided by ideologies and the colours of flags, will collectively recognise the universal colour of blood!