Dreams of a shining star


Rajeev R Singh

'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.' – from Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula's 'suicide note', 17th January 2016.

rohith vemula

The death of this shining star of the University of Hyderabad has once again brought to the fore the plight of the Dalit and other students from disadvantaged communities. The situation is particularly bad for those who dare to defy social norms and try to get into that segment of society or take on those roles that are not considered by the upper castes to belong to them. On one hand, their aspirations and dreams – no matter how high, are crushed before their very eyes, while on the other, elite students are told to 'dream big' as 'unless you dream big, how will you attain it?'

Caste discrimination is not new and continues to be rampant even in places which are part of 'modern' and 'cosmopolitan' India, that is supposedly 'dynamic' and 'forward looking'. While existence of separate kitchens for the Dalits was reported from the police lines of Patna last year, some years back the same scenario was highlighted to be in practice at the University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. At that time too, SC/ST medicos of the UCMS were protesting rampant caste discrimination in their college and they were severely beaten up by the upper caste students and faculty of their college. Discriminatory practices in the cooking and distribution of mid-day meals across the schools of the country are so routine that they have stopped making news.

The brahmanical mindset is so deeply entrenched in the mindset of the Indian psyche that the omnipresent oppressive structures are considered to be 'normal.' Few would bat an eyelid at the existence of the thousands after thousands of caste disaggregated matrimonial columns in the mainstream newspapers week after week since decades. These columns do not after all contain advertisements given by some illiterate farmers and daily wage workers of remote rural areas. These advertisements are given mostly by the urban elite, most of those who would like themselves being counted as 'modern' thinking and 'forward' looking individuals. Marriage being a fundamental institution in Indian society, how modern and forward looking can we expect a society to be which contains families that have deep caste based roots?

A day prior to the death of Rohith, there was news of the dalit groom of a CISF constable, Neetu Meghwal of Pali District of Rajasthan, not being allowed to mount a horse for their wedding. This being the case, despite the presence of senior Govt functionaries on the occasion, as fearing a backlash from the upper castes, the family of Neetu had sounded the administration to ensure that the wedding could happen without any disruption. Instead of ensuring the rule of law, the functionaries of the Govt got the signature of a relative of Neetu on a document stating that they would not wish that her groom would mount a mare during the wedding. As per brahmanical tradition, status quo was maintained and the groom could not mount a mare.

It is being increasingly witnessed over time: the alacrity with which the administrative machinery across the country is getting subverted to protect archaic, feudal and criminal brahmanical institutions in the country. This, despite the fact and that as protectors of the law and upholders of constitutional provisions, it is a well known fact that these are the very agencies that are becoming complicit of not discharging their duties with due diligence.

With the mainstream brahmanical Hindutva forces coming to power at the Centre, what is even more disturbing today is that the machinery is brazenly being used by the right wing to promote their brahmanical agenda and for actively silencing any discussion, dialogue or debate which display any signs of dissent against the prevailing social order. The Dalit students of Hyderabad Central University, organized under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association had organized a screening of the film on the Muzaffarnagar riots 'Muzaffarnagar Baaki Hai'. 'The movie connects and weaves many strands, highlighting the depth of the political and communal chasm, the propaganda that directs a bulk of violence against a particular community, in this case primarily Muslims' (The Hindustan Times, 28th August 2015). As the film was not in the comfort zone for the rightist forces, and it exposed their intentions related to consolidation of the votes of the majority community in the run up to the 2014 general elections, they did not wish that it be exhibited.

The disruption of the screening of the film by ABVP was an illegal act and restrictive to the constitutional right to free speech and expression. Not only was the screening disrupted illegally, false charges were levelled against Rohith and other members of the ASA. The University administration suspended the students while the ABVP activists roamed scot free. Involvement of the Central Minister Bandaru Dattatreya to take matters further by sending a letter to the HRD Minister Smriti Irani, and labelling the ASA members as 'casteist', 'anti national' and 'extremist,' and subsequent suspension of the ASA students shows the complete takeover of the State machinery to muzzle any voice of dissent. Non payment of scholarship money for seven months was another ploy used to break the back of the ASA struggle against saffronisation of education.

Rohith wanted to be a 'writer of science.' Instead he felt that he had become a 'monster.' There was apparently a tremendous amount of guilt that had built up in his mind as there was a complete sense of letdown faced by him. Absence of any redressal mechanism and reinstating of the brahmanical order using institutions and legal mechanisms created ironically as part of establishment of a democratic framework has left the marginalized sections feeling disillusioned. The gains of the decades of struggles of the toiling people seem to be withering away, unless urgent corrective action is not taken. Voices of dissent and democratic forces need to reconsolidate their efforts and we need to work more than ever before to wipe out the menace of caste which is the fundamental institution of Brahmanism.



Rajeev R Singh is a rights activist and has been associated with various peoples forums since the last many years. He has worked to support rights issues of Dalits and toiling people.

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