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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 6 New Delhi January 30, 2016

Nothing but a State-Sponsored Murder

Saturday 30 January 2016

by Binoy Viswam

Rohith Vemula’s dream was to become a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan! But the oppressive social realities around him did not allow that talented young research scholar of the Hyderabad Central University to realise his fond ambition. He was forced to end his life with a heart-touching parting note in one of his friends’ room in the new research scholars hostel. Following intervention from higher-ups in the government he and four other fellow students were denied entry into that hostel since December 16. In a letter, dated December 18, Rohith had asked the university authorities to offer ‘euthanasia’ for him and other expelled researchers. This is the shocking plight of a brilliant student hailing from a very poor social background. It happened in a prestigious centre of higher education and research controlled and administered by none other than the Government of India.

In his ‘note of farewell’ Rohith wrote: “I am writing this kind of a letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.” In that disturbing ‘first-time-written’ final letter he mentioned that he has to get seven months fellowship dues from the authorities. He sought the help from those who read the letter to see that his family is paid the dues. From that amount he instructed to pay back Rs 40 thousand to Ramji, (perhapes a friend) who never asked for it.

Such a tragic incident should naturally draw the attention of the whole nation. Campuses all over the country rose into action demanding that the ‘culprits behind this killing’ be punished. The public came to understand that the main culprits are ‘big people’ who are at the helm of the affairs in the government and the varsity. Their names and the degree of their involvement in the matter emphasise the brutal nature of Rohith’s ‘suicide’. Even though it was termed as a suicide, only technically it could be construed as such. If one looks deep into the course of events, it could be concluded that Rohith’s was an institutional, rather state-sponsored, murder!

By whatever way the Sangh Parivar would like to view it, his death was caused by the unimaginable degree of agony that the poor researcher was undergoing. The circumstances leading to it were ignited by a letter from Bandaru Dattatreya, the Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, to Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Human Resources Development. Bandaru Dattatreya was acting as per the advice of the ABVP leadership in the Hyderabad Central University. The involvement of the Minister, who is also the MP from Secunderabad, is undeniable. That is why the police have registered a case against Dattatreya, Vice-Chancellor P. Appa Rao and two ABVP activists. The charges are obvious—abetment to suicide, violation of the SC and SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

This incident reveals the naked reality that exists today in the Indian Universities, under the Modi rule, with its brand equity of ‘achhedin’! The Sangh Parivar elements are in control of affairs in the field of education as it happens elsewhere. The ABVP cadre, trained in the ‘Hindutva’ school of highhandedness, are determined to impose their diktats on everything. Their elders in the Parivar, including the Ministers, do play their role in literally conquering the young minds as part of their ideological offensive in the name of ‘cultural nationalism’. This is a well-designed game-plan which covers the educational institutions all over the country. The happening in Hyderabad University was not an exception.

On August 3 in the HCU, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) took the initiative for screening the documentary, “Muzaffar Nagar Baqi Hai”, in the campus. The ABVP, true to its ideology of intolerance, unleashed an attack on the ASA cadres both physically and through the social media. This led to a scuffle between the student groups and on August 31 the authorities penalised five students, including Rohith Vemula. The Sangh Parivar outfits were not ready to be satisfied with this. Their intention was to teach a lesson to the ASA students, who raised the voice of dissent in the campus. All the forces of the Parivar were mobilised for this end.

In fact the Minister, Bandaru Dattatreya, entered the scene on August 17 itself at the instance of the ABVP. On that day he wrote to the Ministry of Human Resources Development seeking intervention against the ‘anti-national’ activities in Hyderabad University. And Minister Smriti Irani’s office is on record of communicating with the Vice-Chancellors’ office five times since then. On September 3 it was an e-mail, followed by letters on September 24, October 6, October 20, and November 19. It is the same Minister who sat like a statue over the 90-days ‘Occupy UGC’ movement jointly organised by various student oganisations including the AISF. That movement was for the continuation and expansion of the non-NET fellowship for the research students. But when the ABVP insisted for something based on narrow partisan interest, her office was keen to instantly pressurise the university authorities, who finally expelled the five students on December 16. This is the true face of ‘university autonomy’ under Smriti Irani and Narendra Modi. And the nation may take note that it is the same Narendra Modi who off and on talks about Ambedkar and Dalit empowerment. The people would like to know whether this is the chemistry of the so-called social engineering launched by Modi alongwith Amit Shah!

The suicide of Rohit Vemula is not an isolated one. It points to the alarming situation through which the Dalit and other downtrodden sections of the society are passing even after 68 years of independence. In the last four years 18 Dalit students chose to end their lives, rather than continue to battle on in these dens of caste-prejudice and social exclusion. It is a continuing story. Several years back a committee headed by former UGC Chairman Sukhdeo Thorat was appointed by the GoI to look into the condition of SC/ST students in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) following the suicide of a Dalit student. It threw light on the conditions of SC/ST students and how they walk through an environment that is virulently hostile to them. The situation has worsened with the Sangh Parivar coming to power with its ideological moorings for chathurvarnya-based Hindu Rashtra.

The time has come for the progressive forces to unite and fight against the casteist onslaught that the rich and socially powerful are unleashing against the Dalits and the downtrodden. The struggle for social justice needs to be strengthened with more socio-political clarity and broader participation of the oppressed.

The author, a former Minister of Forests and Housing in the erstwhile LDF Government in Kerala, is a member of the National Executive of the CPI.