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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 8 New Delhi February 13, 2016

Sangh-BJP Atacks and Police Brutality Cannot Stop the Battle for Justice for Rohith

Sunday 14 February 2016

The following is the editorial in ML Update (a CPI-ML weekly newsmagazine) of February 2-8, 2016.

It is being reproduced, with due acknowledgement, for the benefit of our readers.

The institutional murder of young Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad has shocked the entire country and students everywhere have erupted in protests. Given the crucial involvement of the BJP’s Central Minis-ters, Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani, in the entire episode, the resignation of these two Ministers has emerged as a key demand of protesting students across the country. Far from listening to the voices of anguish and outrage, the Modi Government and the Sangh-BJP establishment have virtually declared a war on the ongoing student agitation. They would like to prove that Rohith was not Dalit, his views and activities were ‘anti-national’ and of course they would like to crush dissent by all means. We have seen dissenting students being victimised in other university campuses after Hyderabad, and now the brutality inflicted on student activists, including girl students, in front of the RSS HQ in Delhi signals a new level of fascist offensive where police constables and goons in civilian clothes were seen beating up students in tandem.

The supreme sacrifice of Rohith against the deep-rooted and institutionalised injustice that Dalits and other oppressed communities routinely have to suffer even in today’s twenty-first century India and the intensified assault on the crucial democratic right to dissent in Modi’s saffron regime has touched several chords and opened up new possibilities in the growing struggles against the repressive and regressive Modi raj. Students, who have been actively resisting the saffron assault on education and democracy in the campuses and beyond—whether against the dissolution of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT, Madras or the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of the FTII in Pune, against the suspension of fellowship or sell-out of higher education under WTO, against saffronisation of education or attacks on rationality and dissent—have naturally responded angrily to the saffron witch-hunt of a bright and sensitive young scholar.

Through his sacrifice Rohith has also given voice to the pain and anger felt so deeply by the Dalits and other oppressed communities and identities in India. The Indian state would like us to believe that caste discrimination and atrocities on Dalits belonged to some previous era. Decades of reservation and legislation against atrocities on Dalits have changed the situation quite sufficiently. Then there are the market fundamentalists who tell us that what the state and society could not do is now being done by the market which is the ultimate annihilator of castes and promoter of social mobility. A party like the BJP which is now in power at the Centre and in several of India’s States is now desperate to appropriate Ambedkar and woo Dalits by celebrating Ravidas Jayanti even as it brazenly upholds Manuvad as an integral part of its vision of Hindu Rashtra and relentlessly attacks the values and principles of the Constitution drafted under the chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar.

What makes the predicament more painful is the opportunist silence of many Dalit leaders who routinely invoke the name of Ambedkar but have none of his spirit of questioning and challenging the existing order of injustice and oppression. From Ramvilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale to Udit Raj and Jitan Ram Manjhi—the list of Dalit leaders who have no difficulty in allying with or even joining the BJP is quite significant. Then there is Mayawati’s BSP which habitually keeps silent over most economic, political and socio-cultural questions of the day. Rohith had rejected this politics of silence and opportunism, instead choosing to speak out on everything that mattered to him. And these are indeed questions that would haunt everybody who would like to see a just, democratic and egalitarian society. It is this spirit of Rohith, the spirit of the young India of Rohith’s friends and fellow fighters, which the BJP is mortally afraid of. And hence the desperation in the Sangh-BJP camp to prove that Rohith was not a Dalit, the desperation to beat up and silence whoever is insisting on justice for Rohith.

Rohith and his friends felt for the Muslim youth being persecuted as terrorists. They felt for the riot victims of Muzaffarnagar. RSS ideologues and propagandists accuse him of speaking on everything under the sun except on ‘Dalit issues’! So his crime was that he did not conform to the familiar and convenient pattern of Dalit politics, that he transgressed the secluded slot of ‘Dalit issues’ to build bridges with other oppressed and persecuted commu-nities and identities and stand up for democracy and justice for all. He obviously liked the communist principle ‘to each according to his need’ (‘from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need’ is a well-known basic principle of the communist vision) and even questioned Indian Communists as to how far they have been alive to the needs and aspirations of Dalits and oppressed identities. Rohith thus represented a very urgent need and possibility of critical dialogue, cooperation and unity among Dalits and religious minorities, among Ambedkarites and Communists. While fighting for bringing the guilty of Rohith’s institutional murder to book, we must also do all we can to nurture and develop the possibility that Rohith represented and free India from the clutches of the Sangh-BJP establishment.