Bravo! Netas strip Rohith Vemula down to his Dalit identity – Sreemoy Talukdar

Rohith Vemula

Sreemoy Talukdar“Like vultures excited by the smell of carrion, party leaders from all over India are now circling over Hyderabad, determined to peck every bit of flesh clean off the bone in an effort to secure their votebanks. … The early bird prize went to Rahul Gandhi who came along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Amid folk songs and impromptu lyrics, the Gandhi scion spoke before an excited crowd on the campus. Some tried to capture selfies, while others called their parents at home, requesting them to switch on the TV because it was being covered live.” – Sreemoy Talukdar

SuicideThe suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad has provided a god-given opportunity to our “secular” netas.

The value of a man was reduced to his identity … to a vote, to a number, to a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind, as a glorious thing made of star dust in every field. In studies, on streets, in politics and in dying and living, wrote Rohith Vemula in a heart-wrenching suicide letter.

His eloquent words seem eerily prophetic now.

In less than the time it took for family members, friends and colleagues to process the news of his shocking death, the erudite science scholar has been stripped down, buck naked, to his Dalit identity. And as the vivacious student activist foresaw, through a well-oiled paradigm of reductive politics, his voice has been reduced to just a vote. One vote that could lead to many votes in the eyes of our congenitally opportunistic political handlers.

Like vultures excited by the smell of carrion, party leaders from all over India are now circling over Hyderabad, determined to peck every bit of flesh clean off the bone in an effort to secure their votebanks.

Vemula wanted to be a writer of science “like Carl Sagan”. He was well-read, meritorious, brilliant. He was spunky, a man of action and an inspiration to co-activists. He tore down posters of ABVP, organised movements in favour of the causes he espoused, inevitably resulting in clashes with students of different ideologies. We learn from a Times of India report that PhD scholar Vemula got his admission to the University of Hyderabad on general merit quota. And although he declared himself as a member of a Scheduled Caste in his admission form, he never felt the need to furnish it.

And from his experience, he was also aware of the structured alienation that Dalits face from society. In his final letter, a veritable treatise on each of his experiences as an individual or part of a collective, Vemula issued a clarion call against disrespect for merit “in studies, on streets, in politics and in dying and living”.

But look at what we have done.

Hardly a day has passed since his suicide that long, sharp knives are being twisted into his memory. All that he stood for stands nullified. Eager to pose with his family members and co-activists in a bid to exploit the sentiment—still raw and powerful—vote-hungry netas are busy trampling Vemula’s dying wish under their foot.

Can’t blame them, really. A tragedy not exploited is an opportunity lost.

Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, acting on a request from the BJP’s student wing, sent a letter to HRD ministry. He accused the student association at Hyderabad University bearing Ambedkar’s name of “anti-nationalism”. The Smriti Irani-headed ministry shot off four letters to the vice-chancellor. Vemula and four others were expelled and he eventually committed suicide. If the BJP had a death wish, it couldn’t have executed the plan better. For the Opposition, it is an issued served on a platter to paint the ruling party as a reflexively anti-Dalit.

Hence, we find Arvind Kejriwal, who practices throwing secular arrows on the ‘Narendra Modi Dartboard’ when not playing the victim card, jump into the cauldron with alarming alacrity.

Rahul Gandhi & Arvind KejriwalCalling it “not suicide, but murder” and demanding an apology from Modi, the ‘mufflered mango man’ who remained steadfastly silent during the violence in Malda—a district in Bengal, has since been burning in the fire of righteous indignation. The Trinamool Congress sent its emissary Derek O’Brien, the articulate spokesperson. He couldn’t travel the distance from Kolkata to Malda—around 326 kilometres—when it was burning, but wasted no time in taking the first flight to Hyderabad.

Some causes are greater than others.

The early bird prize, though, went to Rahul Gandhi who came along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Amid folk songs and impromptu lyrics, the Gandhi scion spoke before an excited crowd on the campus. Some tried to capture selfies, while others called their parents at home, requesting them to switch on the TV because it was being covered live.

Seeing all this unfold, Mayawati, whose life and career is centred around Dalit identity politics, sent two emissaries on a fact-finding mission. Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are not too far away.

As tragedy tourism went on in full swing and the recipe for another ‘Mahagathbandhan’ was being readied, we are reminded yet again of Vemula’s immortal words: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity.

The reductive principle at work behind the stripping down of Vemula to his Dalit identity is effectively the new caste system that the political parties are engaging in. And in this new paradigm, politics is no longer the sphere in which convictions crash or varied interests are shared. It is now just a battlefield for pitting one identity against the other. Dalit against Brahmins. Muslims against Hindus.

Vemula, the PhD scholar, is no longer a thinking individual who was convinced of his ideology and acted on basis of his conviction. That individual, tragically, is now dead. The multi-faceted scholar has been quickly ossified by politicians into a mere keeper of an identity, the very thing he warned us against in his final missive.

Henceforth, Vemula is just ‘that Dalit student who committed suicide’. – Firstpost, 20 January 2016

» Sreemoy Talukdar is a senior editor at Firstpost.

University of Hyderabad

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3 Responses

  1. This letter should appear in the main stream newspaper. How many people visit this wonderful but relatively unknown site?

  2. Open letter to Rahul Gandhi – Hilda Raja

    I feel sorry for you because you seem to know very little of India. You are 45 years old and I wonder when you are going to grow up. Imagine you waiting at the wings to become the Prime Minister of India. Can there be a greater disaster for the country than this? What one observes is that you are always ready to pounce at the tragedies—in this case of suicides and ignores the rest of the development momentum that has picked up since Modi took over. It looks that you were in Alice Wonderland and suddenly woke up to the discrimination against the Schedule Castes (Dalit word is unconstitutional). Were you in hibernation? You are least prepared to accept realities and go looking for events which can fault Modi.

    Was the schedule caste discrimination of recent origin? Your Congress party was in power almost for 60 years and one would like to question its efforts to eliminate the discrimination against the Schedule Caste? Lives of the SCs alone are not precious—every life is unique and precious—then why do you pick at the cases against the SC and makes it out to look that under the Modi government these are becoming common.

    I am referring to the suicide of the research scholar Rohith Vemula from Hyderabad Central University. His suicide note clearly states that no one is responsible for his act of killing himself. “No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words, to commit this act. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. Do not trouble my friends and enemies about this after I am gone”. Normally the suicide note is the most important testimony which gives the lead—in this case why should that be overlooked and why are you Rahul Gandhi blaming the Centre government and demanding the resignation of the resignation of Smirit Irani and Bandaru Dattaterya. Why not also add Modi’s name? You seem to be looking for fodder for your own political gains. Your whole approach is negative petty and exhibits your immaturity. Every case needs to be probed and investigated. One cannot go by what a politician like you demands. Being in the Opposition you seem to be always itching to fault Modi’s government.

    This is not the first time you show great eagerness to fish in troubled waters. The same you did when farmers committed suicide—you had the cheap baazar outlook to tell them, “See I am standing with you but Modi is flying to other countries.” Unlike you RG, Modi does not fly to his hideouts to enjoy himself. He is at his job which demands him to fly. Similarly you rushed to the FTII and spurred them into continuing the protest and requested them to take the issue to Delhi, promising that you will raise it in Parliament. When people are hurt and are emotionally disturbed you use that to your political advantage. Is this a sign of maturity or a sick mind? Power at all cost is what you want.

    You do not have a nationalistic mindset and cannot put the country first. It is you and the family which must be first and the interests of the family must be safe guarded. This was evident when you swore outside Parliament that you would block the GST bill. This you did effectively. What it costs the nation is no concern of you and your party. Similarly you used derogatory similes against the PM when you stated that the 57 inches chest will be reduced to 54(?) was that not a low-level aside? You think that politics is child play. For nearly 60 years your party was in power and what do we have as a result—more poverty, more discrimination and more casteism and communalism lumpenised. You and your party are the root cause for the polarization of castes.

    I like to place for your perusal a few cases of caste discrimination and want to demand of you that you visit these places and eliminate them. In Tamilnadu as early as the 80s there had been suicides in the Madras IIT campus. These were not schedule castes. Again the tradition that the dead bodies of the SCs cannot be taken through the caste areas for cremation was faithfully followed. I was working in a village—Pattipulam near Mahabalipuram-Chennai. The upper castes there were Naickers, the Panchayat President was also a Naicker. There the practice was that the village road which ran through the caste area no dead bodies of the SCs were taken. Nobody protested though small voices were raised among the SCs. But the tradition continued. For that matter even their cattle was not allowed to be grazed in the ‘upper’ grazing lands. If the Naickers found any of the SCs cattle straying into the grazing land their tails were cut off. This was in the 80s and I do not know whether this is being continued. But I do know for certain that in the Catholic church in some places the SCs cannot bury their dead in the common cemeteries. They have a separate area notified away from the caste area. This is faithfully followed in Trichy Dindigul and may be in other places too.

    In Kanyakumari district in a village some 8 kilometers from Nagercoil there is a beautiful village of the upper caste, the Saiva Vellalas. They have their own cemetery and will not allow any non-Vellala dead  to be buried there. One Protestant man who was a Nadar—not a SC mind you—converted to the Catholic Church. When he died again the Vellalas refused to bury his body within the cemetery of the Catholic Church. After much coaxing and weeping and wailing by the widow the pastor of his former Protestant church came and removed the body from the house and buried it in their church cemetery. Well, these are not old stories—what about the present? A Vellala girl married a SC boy. Till date the boy has been refused entry into this village by the village elders, though his in-laws had no objection to his entering their house. But he cannot enter the village so how could he enter his in-laws house. This continues even today after 10 years of his marriage.

    I am wondering what the SC/ST commission is all about when such blatant discrimination is being practised. All this under the Congress government at the Center. What about the clashes in Tamilnadu between the Vanniars and the SCs? The Vanniar outfit of Ramdas has banned the marriages between Vanniars and SCs. If any one defies it then there is havoc. Recently the villages of the SCs were burned by the Vanniars. But nobody dares to protest against the Vanniar outfit of Ramdas because it a powerful one. Where are you Rahul Gandhi in all these? I suppose Buta Singh still heads the SC/ST Commission. These are not atrocities and discrimination which has suddenly risen after the BJP took over. These are age-old practices and village dictak.

    It looks ridiculous that Rahul Gandhi you have has suddenly woken up—but picks on only Modi’s government and demands action. What about the happenings and the atrocities all over the country. Is the Congress not accountable for allowing this state of affairs for years? Have the State governments no role to act and prevent such atrocities and discriminations.

    What is disturbing is the fact that you look at these from your own political gains and not from the country’s need to level the ground and create equality which is a Constitutional right. Another aspect which one must probe is the SCs reservations. When it comes to education after 60 years is it not the need of the hour to evaluate this and find out whether it was judicious to continue the reservation policy in education—the minority right and so on. As far as education is concerned it is high time that those meritorious and poor need to be helped irrespective of caste and religion. On one side when we talk of communalism and on the other hand we abet it by communalizing rights on the basis of religion and caste then we are not building but demolishing the Constitutional rights. It is also relevant to question why after 64 years such rights on the basis of religion and caste have not leveled the differences. This proves that these are faulty and need to be restructured or done away with. Again it is political exigencies that the politicians want to cater to castes. It is they who are ruining the country and turning this into a land of communalism.

    Rahul Gandhi please stop playing with fire and remember that nemesis will follow you if you do not put people and its development before your own power grabbing tactics. Can you afford to cut the branch on which you are sitting? You will never reach the PM’s gaddi. First follow basic courtesies—respect the PM of this country and take a positive outlook and not be so negative in everything. Stop jumping into troubled waters and do not argument friction. It stunts your personality growth and hinders your mental maturity. Please do not go only by what Surijiwal prompts. Remember that all the ills of this country are the making of the Congress. People have not and will not forget it. So do not try to play the Good Samaritan and pretend that all the ills are of recent making. Do not always listen to your ‘chammchas’. Rahul Gandhi you have a long way to go—I wish you a real growth prone journey without constantly putting your foot in your mouth. – Dr Mrs Dr Hilda Raja, Vadodara, 20 January 2016

    Dr Raja taught Social Sciences at Stella Maris College in Chennai for many years. She now lives in retirement with her son in Vadodara, Gujarat.

    • This letter should appear in the main stream newspaper. How many people visit this wonderful but relatively unknown site?

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