‘My Birth is My Fatal Accident’, Rohith said and left, forever…
“I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of Science like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.” Does anyone remember these lines written by Rohith Vemula in his brilliant and heart wrenching letter written on 17th January, 2016.
Lest anyone forget let us go back to the Hyderabad Central University and the unnoticed, peaceful democratic protests that have been happening since December 2015, when five research scholars, who also happen to be Dalits were boycotted socially and academically by an order of the University Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile. The boycott was a result of a string of false allegations and accusations made by ABVP student leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar on Dalit students. The allegations of the right wing youth leader were backed by BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya and MLA Ramchandra Rao whose unruly interference and subsequent letter to the MHRD pressurised the University administration to haphazardly invoke suspension of innocent students. This suspension meant no access to hostels, public spaces in the University, denial to participate in University elections and non-availability of fellowships, which practically brought them to the street. What is important to be noted is that on 3rd October, a writ petition filed by Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad, C P Anand, cleared the five students of all charges and stated that all the claims and accusations made by Susheel Kumar were false. Despite the clearance, Smriti Irani wrote five letters, pressurizing the University to suspend the Dalit students.
On December 18, 2015 Rohith Vemula, in his letter to the Vice Chancellor, expressed his despair and asked the administration to give 5 mg of Sodium Azide or a rope to Dalit students during admissions, if they were unwanted in University spaces. The student’s lived in an open tent in a public space of the University throughout December and January, which happens to be the most chilling months in Hyderabad with temperatures dropping to 8 degrees in the night. With no food, shelter, access to basic necessities and no money owing to the non-availability of fellowship, they survived on what friends got them for meals and used the public toilets, which they had access to for over a month.
Such gross violation of students rights and discrimination against Dalit students is not new to the Indian higher education system. One month goes by with no media attention, naught solidarity statements from students, faculty or political groups barring immediate circles of known persons, till Rohith finally takes a step that, perhaps none of us imagined, on 17th January 2016. Rohith’s institutional murder, I repeat, Rohith’s institutional murder was a result of the well-planned discrimination against Dalit students in the University.
Rohith being the brilliant student that he was and an activist who spoke and wrote incisively and rationally on local, national and international issues had become a threat to the Hindutva elements on campus. From Susheel Kumar’s false complaints to Chief Proctor Alok Pandey’s biased, casteist Proctorial report, to VC Appa Rao, BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya, BJP MLA Ramchandra Rao and Minister of HRD Smriti Irani’s conspiracy to curb Dalit students’ voices, every act, every single step pushed Rohith, who was the sole economic support for his family, to hopelessness and despair. He fought till the very end. He himself writes, “I am not hurt at this moment. I am not Sad. I am Just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.”
The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, University of Hyderabad (JAC-UoH) has been relentlessly working to demand justice for Rohith Vemula and the four research scholars, Prashanth, Sunkanna, Seshu and Vijay who have survived the worst kind of caste discrimination in a Central University in the 21st century. Universities from across India and the World have extended their support in the #JusticeForRohith movement spearheaded by the JAC-UoH. Political parties, cultural groups, student bodies and faculties, independent researchers, film-makers and media houses have been extending their support to the Students Movement in large numbers. Eminent scholar and political scientist Prof. Immanuel Ness, from City University, New York was among the first to lend their voice to the movement. Poet Ashok Vajpayi, returned his DLitt to the University of Hyderabad on 20th January, 2016 when he heard of the institutional murder of a Dalit research scholar. Prof Marcello Musto, from York University, denied an invitation from the Department of Political Science refusing to participate in any activity that is not in genuine solidarity with the students’ protest.
What is striking about the support extended by the international academic community, is the response of faculty within the University who called the protests a ‘problem of post-Mandal students’ and those supporting the students ‘Stalinists’. An absolutely ghastly response, which puts us as students in shock and the institution to shame. Nevertheless, students at the University of Hyderabad have sustained their fight for social justice against the Brahminic forces within and outside the University, held Bus yatras throughout Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, interacting with students and communities across the states. The JAC-UoH has been co-ordinating with concerned individuals and students’ groups across Universities who have been mobilising support in their respective States and institutions.
All this and more has gone into organising what I want to call the ‘Uprising of 2016’, albeit a democratic and peaceful one to be held on the 23th February, 2016. Given the background of the case and the continued discrimination that Dalit students face, the JAC-UoH has given an International Call for ‘Chalo Delhi’ on the 23rd February, 2016. The peaceful protest march to be held from Ambedkar Bhavan to Jantar Mantar, New Delhi invites concerned citizens of the world to Unite in our fight for Justice for Rohith, to abolish the draconian Caste System, to fight against the Brahminic rulers of the Indian State and to spread the idea of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as outlined by Dr B R Ambedkar. The Parliament Session commences on the 23rd and with promises made by various political leaders to raise the issue of Rohith’s institutional murder on day one of the session, it becomes all the more crucial for every individual and group that cries equality and justice to join the Protest March.
The country has become a political hot potato in the last one week with Muslims students being profiled, student leaders being arrested on the basis of false complaints and doctored videos and Hindu terror spreading like wildfire. We are in a situation G Aloysius’ brilliant book calls, ‘Nationalism without a Nation’. FTII, JNU, Pondicherry University, EFLU-Hyderabad, IIT-Madras and many more institutions and Universities have been fighting the evil Government for months. Let this be the time and place for all of us to unite on one common platform and voice our dissent against the Fascist rulers and remind them that we cannot be taken for granted anymore.
Rohith was a pro-life Ambedkarite and a Buddhist perhaps, who stood by principles of Justice and rose against capital punishment and all kinds of non-violence. Rohith wanted his funeral to be silent and smooth and clearly we defied his wishes. I distance with Rohith when he writes, ‘I am happy dead than being alive’, no Rohith, we would have been happier if you were Alive and fighting, like you always did!
Chalo Delhi is just the Beginning…
Demands of the JAC-UoH are outlined as follows-
1. Enact “Rohith Act” against caste discrimination in higher education spaces.
2. Punish the culprits in abetment of Rohiths institutional murder – (Susheel Kumar, Alok Pandey, Ramchandra Rao, Appa Rao, Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani)
3. Remove Appa Rao from the post of Vice Chancellor of UoH
4. Employ a family member of Rohith in the University
5. Pay a minimum compensation of 50 lakhs to Rohith’s family
6. Drop false cases against five research scholars
7. Appoint a special public prosecutor for Rohith’s case
8. Constitute a judicial inquiry (non-MHRD members) into all cases of discrimination and harassment of Dalit, Adivasi, OBC, Religious Minority students in all higher educational institutions.