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Mainstream, VOL LV No 14 New Delhi March 25, 2017

Remembering that Dalit Scholar........

Saturday 25 March 2017

by Binoy Viswam

When I met Muthukrishnan’s father, he was sitting on a concrete bench in front of the mortuary at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). His eyes were manifesting the mental agony which he was going through. That is natural for a father who has lost his son at an unexpected moment. His name is Jeevanantham. Notwithstanding his immense sorrow he told me about his son and his three sisters. With his small earnings from the work as a watchman in a private establishment, he was keen to educate all his children. He knew the importance of being educated, as he himself was denied that opportunity because of his social backwardness. As a proud father he told me: “All my children were good at studies and Muthukrishnan was the best among them.”

For Muthukrishnan, the JNU was a dream. That’s why after completing his studies from the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) he pursued his passion for the JNU. He was a close friend of Rohith Vemula while studying in the HCU and he was actively involved in the movement of Dalit students against the suspension of Rohith. He got his admission after repeatedly appearing in entrance tests for five times. This shows what the JNU was for Muthukrishnan! In the JNU also he continued his political activities as part of the ‘Justice for Vemula’ movement. In his dream campus, the JNU, nobody knows exactly what happened to him. On the day of Holi in the evening he was found hanging in a friend’s house at Munirka, near the campus. A close friend of him who was with him during the breakfast told me that he was normal and visibly happy at that time. Muthukrishnan even imitated Rajnikanth, the Tamil film hero, and uttered some of his dialogues in a lighter mood. He was an ardent admirer of Rajnikanth and liked to be referred as ‘Rajini krish’ in his blog and face book. It is after that he went to his friend, who happens to be a Korean national, for lunch.

What led to the sad demise of Muthukrishnan is not known to anybody. The cause of death can be revealed only through a fool-proof, comprehensive and impartial investigation. His father has filed a complaint with the police and has demanded a CBI enquiry. The activists of BAPSA, the students’ organisation which he was closely associated with, AISF, SFI, AISA and the JNUSU office-bearers whom I met all support this demand. The students and teachers, who stood in scattered groups in front of the mortuary, reflected the face of present-day JNU. The mystery around the missing student, Najeeb, still continues. The campus is going on asking: ‘Where is Najeeb?’ The administration and the government have no answer.

The JNU, the prestigious centre of learning in the country, had been witness to turbulent times in February 2016. The Sangh Parivar’s designs to strangle and isolate the JNU in the name of nationalism imposed inexplicable hardships for the students and teachers of the JNU. Kanhaiya Kumar, the then JNUSU President and leader of the AISF, was continuously hounded by the Parivar. In pursuit of their pseudo-nationalism the RSS unleashed a severe attack on the inquisitive nature of the JNU. They redefined patriotism to suit their fascist ideology, and freedom of speech and expression were shackled in the campus. The presence of Left-minded students and teachers, according to the RSS, was a danger to be dealt with. The RSS and ABVP are always reluctant to cope up with the changed times which opened the way for SC/ST and OBC students to the campus.

The tone of the Sangh ideology is to treat the students from socially backward sections as aliens. When this contradiction aggravated in the Hyderabad Central University, Rohith Vemula was forced to end his life. It is the ABVP along with two Central Ministers that caused the suspension of Rohith Vemula from the campus. Tortured by such humiliating experiences, Vemula committed suicide. It was legitimately called an institutional murder.

Vemula’s tragic experience speaks about the plight of the students from the backward sections in high places of education. From those lessons the democratic student movement of the country shaped their demand for the Rohith Vemula Act. Such an Act is being envisaged for guaranteeing a decent and humane atmosphere for the socially backward students to continue their studies with dignity in campuses.

The truth behind the death of Muthukrishnan is yet to come. Democratic forces all over the country would naturally urge the CBI enquiry to be impartial and effective. The academic community, in and outside the campus, expects the cause of the young scholar’s death to be unveiled at the earliest. Jeevanantham and his family have lost their son who was their hope for the future. Radhika Vemula, the mother of Rohith Vemula, also faced a similar situation. These children who came through the life of deprivation had nurtured great dreams to become scientists, historians and intellectuals of excellence. But in the places of wisdom and learning which our universities are supposed to be, their serene dreams were met with hurdles and suppression. Why is it so?

The influence of social relations entangled with caste-based conflicts is baring the fangs in our campuses too. This challenge has to be addressed seriously. The recent modification enforced by the authorities for M.Phil, Ph.D enrolment has been widely criticised by the student community. Students from socially oppressed sections feel that this is a move to keep them away from research and higher studies. Hence they look at it with anguish and apprehension. The sad end of Muthukrishnan’s life underlines the necessity for having a relook into this aspect of the problem.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent days never spared an opportunity to talk about equal rights of the oppressed and the poor. During the election campaign in UP in his own rhetorical style Modi repeated his commitment to the “Dalit, Shoshith, Vanchith and Peedith samaj”. Now, once the elections are over he is sure to forget that commitment. Muthukrishnan, the enthusiastic Dalit scholar who wanted to embrace a decent life with equality and freedom, couldn’t realise his dreams. The social reality and the caste-class relations are structured in such a way that the hard and fast rules deny equality of opportunity for those in the lowest strata of society. Without restructuring the rules and regulations, the dreams of the poor like Muthukrishnan can never be realised. The progressive democratic forces are well aware of this fact.

The Left movement in the country looks upon the Dalit awakening as a positive and promising development of our times. With an open mind the Left looks forward to a meaningful dialogue with the newly emerging movements among the Dalits and other deprived sections. The Left parties consider themselves to be the natural allies and real comrades-in-arms of the “Dalit, Shoshit, Vanchit and Peedith”.

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.

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